Under new laws, you must manage any activities that pose a risk to human health and the environment from pollution or waste. This applies even where the activity has low risks.

The general environmental duty (GED) is unlikely to affect you if your business:

  • doesn’t have polluting activities
  • only produces minimal domestic-type wastes that go in normal bins.

Understanding what low-risk activities are

Businesses that do not have polluting activities, or only produce minimal domestic-type wastes that go in normal bins, are considered to pose low risk to human health and the environment through their activities.

For most businesses, complying with environmental laws means ensuring appropriate removal of waste, clean sites and keeping rubbish and chemicals out of stormwater drains. These businesses are unlikely to have new requirements under the new laws.

Businesses with activities that pose low risk of harm to human health and the environment from pollution or waste may include:

  • retail and convenience stores
  • offices
  • cafes
  • bars
  • pharmacies.

If your business poses low risk to human health and the environment, you can demonstrate risk management through the actions you take. You don’t need to document your risk management practices.

Levels of risk infographic

Managing low-risk activities

You might not need to do anything different if your activities pose little or low risk to human health or the environment. You might already be taking actions you need to at work.

For example, occupational health and safety (OHS) laws already mean that you must act to prevent slips, trips and injuries after spills. Other existing controls through which you can meet the expectations of the GED can include:

  • local laws
  • planning permits
  • industry codes of practice.

At a minimum, take reasonable precautions and use your common sense. Steps you can take to manage low-risk activities at work include:

  • training your staff in responsible waste management
  • keeping your workplace clean and tidy
  • recycling paper, cardboard, glass and plastics
  • minimising wastewater
  • making sure you use stormwater drains just for water
  • using authorised waste transporters
  • utilising appropriate waste disposal, such as those provided by your local council or a waste management provider or contractor
  • switching off equipment at night.

Complying with the law is a four-step process

There are four basic steps you need to follow to manage risk. This method is a continuous process which returns to step 1 after you put a control in place.

You need to:

  1. Identify – what hazards are present that might cause harm?
  2. Assess – how severe is the risk, based on the likelihood of it happening and its consequence?
  3. Implement – what measures are suitable and available to the business to eliminate or reduce risk?
  4. Check – review controls to make sure they’re effective.

Assessing and controlling risk: a guide for business (EPA publication 1695) has more information about managing risks.

Steps in controlling hazards and risks infographic

Revisiting your activities to identify change

As a business with low-risk activities, you need to regularly revisit your activities to identify any changes.

How you manage risk should be proportionate to the risk that any change in your business activities poses.

You may need to implement different controls. For example, if new hazards you identify introduce medium to high-risk of harm to human health or the environment.

If you don’t already control risks, you can start by finding out how to manage your environmental impact.

Read more about tools and support to manage risk

Managing medium to high-risk activities to comply with environment protection laws

Industry guidance

Subordinate legislation tools to support the new Act

Self-assessment tool for small business

Find information and guidance for your industry

Reviewed 31 January 2020