The Environment Protection Act 2017 focuses on preventing harm to human health and the environment from pollution and waste. Under the Act, the term ‘reasonably practicable’ relates to your effort to prevent harm.
Taking reasonably practicable action means you have put in ‘proportionate’ controls to eliminate or minimise risks of harm. Proportionate means the greater the risk of potential harm, the greater the expectation for you to manage it. ‘Controls’ can range from:
- eliminating or changing the source of the risk
- engineering or building controls
- training and safe site practices
- a combination of any of the above.
Example: Karen’s manufacturing business
Karen runs a manufacturing business. She’s starting a new production line and has researched how to reduce noise, so she doesn’t disturb her neighbours. Karen has set up a new procedure for her equipment operators. This is so operators use it in a contained area and maintain it regularly, to reduce noise pollution. Karen has now trained all the operators in the correct use of the equipment.
During training, the site manager suggested if they installed a silencer on building ventilation, noise levels would reduce further. Karen researched silencer options and assessed the costs. She has decided to also install silencers, knowing they will reduce noise to well within EPA standards.
Karen has shown that she identified the risk of harm to human health and the environment. She has then put in place measures to reduce her risks as far as reasonably practicable.
Identifying what is reasonably practicable
The general environmental duty (GED) is at the centre of the Environment Protection Act 2017 and it applies to all Victorians. This duty requires you to eliminate or minimise risks so far as reasonably practicable.
To help you identify what is reasonably practicable under the GED, answer the following questions for your activity:
- Eliminate first – can you eliminate the risk? If it's not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, think about how you can reduce it.
- Likelihood – what’s the chance harm will occur? Has the harm occurred before on your site or has it commonly occurred on other sites? Seek information from suppliers, manufacturers or industry.
- Degree – how severe could the harm be to human health or the environment?
- Your knowledge about the risks – what do you know, or what can you find out, about the risks your activities pose? How can you address those risks to human health and the environment? To find out more, see 'state of knowledge'.
- Availability and suitability – what technology, processes or equipment are available to control the risk? What controls are suitable for use in your circumstances?
- Cost – how much does the control cost to put in place compared to how effective would it be in reducing risk? Importantly, the most effective solution won’t always be the most expensive. Likewise, a cheaper solution may not be the most effective available to control the risk.
Guidance from EPA and industry provides help for you to find common, effective practices and controls to assess your risks. Guidance can help you understand what controls may be proportionate to eliminate or minimise your risks.
Other duties that require you to manage your risks, so far as reasonably practicable:
How reasonably practicable can change over time
Our understanding of risks to human health and the environment changes over time. New technology and techniques allow better risk management. You should regularly check your risks and controls by reviewing:
- your understanding of the consequences of your activities and whether they are likely to cause risks
- the effectiveness of your approach to managing risks
- controls you have in place to reduce the risk of harm to human health and the environment. This is important to do when new options to control risks become available.
By doing this, you can make sure you continue to meet the current understanding of what is reasonably practicable.
Reasonably practicable (publication 1856)
Supporting you to comply with the general environmental duty (publication 1741)
Assessing and controlling risk: A guide for business (publication 1695)
Reviewed 22 September 2020