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Introduction

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) is Victoria’s environmental regulator. We are a science-based regulator that protects human health and the environment from the impacts of pollution and waste.

We do this in several ways:

  • working with community, business, governments, and Traditional Owners to prevent and reduce the harmful impacts of pollution and waste.
  • supporting all Victorians to understand their obligations under the law.
  • taking proportionate regulatory action against those who fail to meet their obligations.
  • providing clear advice on the state of our environment so that people can make informed decisions about their health.

The Environment Protection Act 2017 (the Act) and regulations provide a framework for protecting human health and the environment from the harmful effects of pollution and waste.

The general environmental duty (GED) is central to the laws. It requires all Victorians to manage risks to human health and the environment that their activities create. Everyone must take steps to minimise their risks, so far as reasonably practicable. This includes all businesses, big or small.

We expect individuals and businesses to be open and honest, identify and manage risk proactively, and continually minimise risks to the environment.

Understanding and controlling your risks is key to complying with the law. We will work with you to do so, with a focus on supporting you to prevent harm from your activities.

We act quickly and transparently to enforce the law if you do not comply with your obligations. If you are resistant, evasive or fail to account for your risks, our response will be more severe.

Our regulatory approach

Our regulatory approach uses a mix of encouragement and deterrence to motivate action and deliver improved outcomes for Victorian communities and the environment.

As a science-based regulator, we apply a risk-based approach that uses science, intelligence, and evidence to prioritise our effort to where we can make the biggest difference.

When we make decisions under the Act, we are guided by the principles of environment protection. Our decisions also give regard to human rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities

We work with other organisations, agencies, and partners to protect human health and the environment. Local government (councils) play an important role as joint-regulators, bringing timely responses to localised issues of pollution and waste.

We respect and acknowledge Traditional Owner cultural values and knowledge and their responsibility and duty to protect and heal Country. We engage and collaborate with Traditional Owners to consider cultural values as part of our regulatory approach.

When we use our regulatory tools, we focus on the problem and desired outcome and apply them in a consistent, transparent, and proportionate way.

Our regulatory approach involves several key elements:

image showing the key elements involved in EPA's regulatory approach

Inform and educate

We raise awareness of environmental duties, the human health and environmental risks and impacts of activities, the importance of environmental quality, and our role and jurisdiction.

We welcome conversations with people about their local environment. We start with the assumption that most individuals and businesses accept their responsibility for protecting the environment and want to comply with their legal obligations. We raise awareness and understanding of the condition of the environment and the impact our daily activities can have on the quality and aspects of the environment we value. We also play an important role as a technical support agency, providing technical, scientific, and public health information and advice during emergency events.

We promote understanding of environmental duties and legal obligations and emphasise education as effective ways of encouraging people to comply. Sharing our science, knowledge of the environment and regulatory approach helps to increase compliance and provides a common understanding for us to enforce the law. 

We engage early, often, and respectfully with those affected by our decisions, seeking to understand their aspirations and concerns.
Our Charter of Consultation outlines tools we use for consultation and how we engage with business and community, including when developing standards or issuing a permission.

To improve understanding of the state of our environment and our shared responsibilities, we use:

  • awareness and education campaigns we work with people to help them understand environmental harm or public health risk arising from pollution incidents, emerging environmental problems, or long-term legacy matters that may affect them and what they can do to respond to and minimise risks.
  • information sessions and community meetings provide information during emergency events or about aspects of a proposed standard or permission and allow interested parties to ask questions and better understand an incident or proposal.
  • conferences of interested persons empower discussion, resolution and problem solving on any matter or decision under consideration.
  • environment reporting supports people to understand the condition of their environment. We share information and communicate the state of the environment, environmental risks and how to respond to them, including during emergency events.
  • working with volunteers helps the community and EPA build a shared understanding of environmental issues. For example, our citizen science program sees community volunteers working with EPA on projects around Victoria to collect and study scientific data on the health of our communities and environment. 
  • reference groups help us learn about community and industry’s environmental concerns. The advice and input help shape our policies.

Set standards

We set clear and authoritative public health and environmental standards based on science, an understanding of community aspirations and industry best practice.

EPA and Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), in consultation with relevant government, business and community stakeholders and Traditional Owners, set environmental standards and expectations for activities through regulations, compliance codes, environment reference standards and permissions. These are based on science, an understanding of the state of the environment, current and future risks, and the aspirations of Traditional Owners and the community.

As standards evolve over time with changing environmental conditions and advances in knowledge and technology, we work to develop and promote continuous improvement and good practice.

We set standards in line with our General Standards Policy. Our tools for developing and promoting continuous improvement and good practice include:

  • Legislative requirements and duties set out in the Act inform how we work with community and industry to minimise risks to human health and the environment from pollution and waste.   
  • Regulations set minimum standards of conduct, for specific activities or risks of harm.
  • Rulings and determinations can modify requirements under a permission or Regulation, providing flexibility and responsiveness in the way issues are regulated.
  • Compliance codes provide practical guidance on how to meet duties under the Act or other obligations under subordinate legislation.
  • Environment reference standards define the environmental values of Victoria and inform government decision-making, permissioning decisions, and reporting on the state of our environment.
  • Permissions ensure performance standards and conditions are met across a range of activities. We administer permissions, including licences, permits and registrations, in line with our Permissions Scheme Policy.
  • Financial assurance prevents the Victorian community bearing the financial cost of cleaning up a site by requiring a business to provide security for the costs of remediation and clean-up.  A financial assurance works like a security deposit. By providing it, a business assures EPA that if a site needs to be cleaned-up, funds are available. This is described further in our guide for financial assurance.
  • Land use and development advice supports planning authorities and other agencies prior to approval of activities and development, especially on high-risk applications, as well as in cases of encroachment of sensitive developments onto industrial facilities.

Support to comply

We provide advice and guidance, strengthened through partnerships to support individuals and businesses to comply and improve their capability in identifying and managing their risks.

We expect those who have a duty or obligation under the law to seek out relevant information and stay up to date with changing industry practices. However, we will also listen to businesses about the issues that affect compliance and collaborate on the development of fit for purpose guidance materials (e.g. ‘reasonably practicable’ actions to manage risks) and make them widely available.

We understand that industry associations are often a preferred source of advice for businesses, and we will work with them to get information to you. We also work with other regulators to make it easier for you to be clear about your full suite of obligations, particularly where those obligations can overlap.

Tools and actions we may use to improve businesses’ capability in identifying and managing their risks are:

  • Compliance advice EPA and its authorised officers provide practical and constructive advice to support compliance, and, where necessary, provide support on how to remedy any non-compliance. Compliance advice may include referring to applicable compliance codes, EPA guidance, other national and international standards, or guidance from other relevant sources.
  • Industry guidance contributes to the state of knowledge and provides practical support to industry to assist in discharging their obligations.
  • Industry partnerships and programs create opportunities for Victorian businesses to partner or collaborate with us in support programs. These can include learning resources, guidance materials and funding to deliver training programs.

Monitor compliance

We determine the level of compliance with duties and standards and maintain a credible risk of detecting non-compliance.
A core function of EPA is to monitor businesses and their activities to determine levels of compliance. Our primary focus is on prevention; wherever possible, we want to ensure that incidents of non-compliance and their impacts are avoided, and we work to constantly improve our capacity to detect and respond to non-compliance.

In cases where we identify or become aware of a problem or a risk, we seek to resolve the problem before it leads to an impact on the environment or the health of Victorians.

To prevent non-compliance, we monitor activities using these tools and powers:

  • Litter and pollution reporting by the community helps us protect our environment and investigate potential non-compliance. This includes reports of smoky vehicles, illegal dumping, industry pollution and litter from cars.
  • Reporting of notifiable incidents and contamination is required in certain circumstances and assists us to respond to harm, monitor the management of risks, and support business and community to prevent harm in the future. 
  • Compliance and performance reporting by EPA permission holders helps us monitor a business’s compliance with their conditions and identify broader compliance trends across permission activities. This includes the requirement for businesses to report to EPA a breach of their permission conditions. It may also include the submission of a performance statement to demonstrate compliance with their permission.
  • Inspections and surveillance: Our authorised officers visit businesses to conduct inspections and assess compliance. In our assessments, we also seek out and use the insights and intelligence from partner agencies. Our Guide to inspection and inquiry powers has further information on how authorised officers use their powers of inspection and inquiry under the Act.
  • Environmental audit system: We oversee the environmental audit system, including the appointment of environmental auditors. Planning authorities, government agencies, community members and industry use environmental audits to help them understand the condition of a site and its suitability for use. EPA has a quality assurance program to monitor the performance of auditors.

Enforce the law

We address non-compliance with the law by requiring parties to remedy non-compliance, seek redress for harms, and where appropriate, pursue a penalty or punishment.

Under the Act, responsibility for preventing harm rests with anyone in management or control of an activity that may give rise to risks of harm. This empowers us to address non-compliance, even if harm has not yet occurred, by objectively and assertively requiring remedial action.

Where appropriate, sanctions will be applied to redress harms and deter future offending by the individual and others. We support responsive and restorative sanctioning, which means the use of sanctions to improve outcomes and redress harmful impacts to the environment and community.

Before taking action, we will seek to understand your perspective and act in accordance with our Compliance and enforcement policy. This policy sets out how we enforce the law, including issuing of remedial notices, directions, and orders, and the application of an escalating range of sanctions.

  • A remedial notice, direction or order is issued to bring an individual or business into compliance or set out the steps to deal with the harm, waste, or contamination. To find out more, see our Remedial powers policy, which sets out the range of remedial tools under the Act.
  • A sanction is a punishment or consequence if you don’t comply with the law. We can pursue different types of sanctions. To find out more, see our Sanction powers policy, which sets out the range of sanctions under the Act.
  • Third-party civil remedies are an important tool that gives the community broader access to justice. Third-party civil remedies are orders granted by the courts. They’re available to a person who is harmed, or could be harmed, by another person’s failure to meet their legal obligations.

Encourage higher performance

We work with leaders and partners to encourage higher performance, improve industry practices and inform future standards.
We work in partnership with leaders in business and community to encourage higher performance, building the case for improving practices and influencing future standards. We will seek partnerships that promote improved practice and performance, aligned to our priorities, and focused on driving the future standards at specific sites, industry or business sectors, or geographic areas. 

Tools and actions we may use to improve practices and performance include:

  • Better Environment Plans offers businesses an opportunity to identify innovative solutions to environmental issues or exceed their environmental obligations.
  • Promote positive examples of improved practice and environmental performance to encourage and support those who do the right thing and go beyond minimum standards.
  • Strategic stakeholder engagement with people in priority industry or business sectors, or in specific geographic areas in the design of solutions and approaches to continually ‘raise the bar’ of environmental performance.
  • Liaise and collaborate with government to promote the prevention of harm and raise the profile of emerging issues of environmental concern.
  • Rewards and incentives that recognise the opportunity to reduce the regulatory burden on high performers.

What we expect from you

We expect individuals and businesses to be open and honest, proactively identify and manage their risks, and regularly maintain their understanding of what their obligations are, and comply with them.

We work with businesses to help build knowledge, capability, and capacity to prevent harm to human health and the environment. In turn, we expect businesses to assess risks of harm, put processes in place to minimise risks, respond quickly and seriously to EPA’s advice and suggestions and make changes when needed. You must also report pollution incidents, contamination and any breach of your EPA permission.

We expect you to respond positively when we raise issues with you. If you are resistant, evasive or fail to account for your risks, our response will be more severe.

If you disagree with a decision we’ve made there are avenues for review and appeal. You can apply for an internal review of an infringement notice or a remedial notice. You may also seek an external review in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a range of decisions under the Act.

If you’re unhappy with the way an EPA authorised officer has behaved, you may submit a complaint to EPA. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly by us, you may also submit a complaint to the Victorian Ombudsman.

Our regulatory approach in action – small to medium sized businesses

We understand smaller businesses may have fewer hazards and risks to consider than larger businesses. However, your level of risk is not solely defined by the size of your operation. Your approach to managing risk may depend on the type of activities, their complexity, and your location. 

We recognise smaller businesses may have less experience with environmental risks and controls, or the resources to dedicate to implementing sophisticated management systems. Our officers will take this into account, making sure we are fair and proportionate in our interactions with you.

However, if you are a small-to-medium sized business, we will expect you to understand the hazards and risks to human health and the environment posed by your business operations. We expect that you have thought about risk controls in the same way you have taken action to comply with occupational health and safety laws.

If you’re a small-to-medium sized business, an EPA officer will:

  • check with you that you understand the four steps for assessing and controlling risks (EPA publication 1695)
  • work with you to build an understanding of the hazards and risks posed to the environment and human health from your business operations
  • talk to you about how you are considering the management of risks, and the risk controls that you could put in place in your business
  • ensure you’re clear about whether your activities need a licence, permit or registration from EPA
  • require you to address any non-compliance. We’ll provide an example of what compliance looks like and discuss this with you before making any decision
  • consider your history of any non-compliances so that we can determine what further action to take.

Example: Small business

An EPA officer undertaking a compliance inspection at a small business is likely to ask what hazards and risks you have considered and what controls you have put in place as a result. For example, at a café or food retailer, they’ll look for obvious risks such as litter and poor management of wastes, or noise from operations and equipment. They may ask you to demonstrate that you have identified risks and implemented appropriate controls to satisfy the general environmental duty and waste duties. The officer may talk about other risk controls commonly used in the industry. However, it is up to you to determine what is ‘reasonably practicable’ to be applied in your business based upon the ‘state of knowledge’– for example, in hospitality and retail, some possible risk controls can be found in Retail – guide to preventing harm to people and the environment (EPA publication 1824).

Consistent with our Compliance and Enforcement policy, an EPA officer may provide compliance advice or issue a remedial notice if they see clear and obvious opportunities for improvement.

Example: Medium-sized business

An EPA officer undertaking a compliance inspection at a medium-sized business is likely to ask you to explain the hazards and risks you are managing in your business and the controls you have in place. For example, if the business is a factory manufacturing consumer goods, the officer will assess the effectiveness of the management systems in place to manage emissions, odour, noise and waste, and talk about the state of knowledge that exists for the industry, such as the risk controls described in Manufacturing – guide to preventing harm to people and the environment (EPA publication 1822).

Consistent with our Compliance and Enforcement policy, an EPA officer may provide compliance advice or issue a remedial notice if they see clear and obvious opportunities for improvement. 

Our regulatory approach in action – large business

Generally, large businesses are more familiar with environmental regulation, and may have had many previous dealings with EPA.
We expect that large businesses have a mature understanding of risk management, and know the hazards and risks posed by their operations.

We recognise that to conduct their operations, large businesses will have comprehensive environmental management systems in place to control hazards and risks. Typically, if these systems are in place and are being properly applied, businesses will have a low risk of non-compliance with their environmental duties. EPA officers will want to be assured that environmental management systems are being implemented effectively.

If you’re a large business, an EPA officer will:

  • seek to understand your business operations and the hazards and risks posed to human health and the environment
  • assess whether appropriate environmental management systems are in place and are being properly implemented
  • continue to work with you to determine whether it’s reasonably practicable for new technology or process improvements to be introduced into your environmental management system, or equipment to be upgraded to better address risks
  • work with those of you who hold an EPA permission to comply with conditions and understand expectations for the review or renewal of those permissions
  • require you to address any non-compliance. We’ll provide an example of what compliance looks like and discuss this with you before making any decision
  • consider your history of any non-compliances so that we can determine what action to take.

Example: Large business

When an EPA officer inspects a steel works, they’ll focus on hazards and risks such as air emissions, chemical storage and handling, and waste management. Risks to human health from air emissions will be a clear focus and the officer will expect comprehensive systems and controls to be in place. Systems and controls should be proportionate to the risks posed by the operation and their potential impacts. The officer will expect the business to maintain a current understanding of state of knowledge for their industry, such as being familiar with risk controls outlined in Guideline for assessing and minimising air pollution (EPA publication 1961).

The operators may be asked for copies of the environment management system that is in place, and evidence that demonstrates its proper implementation. The officer may ask about other types of risk controls that are in place at similar sites and whether these are appropriate and ‘reasonably practicable’ for the business. A remedial notice may be issued if there are clear opportunities for additional ‘reasonably practicable’ risk controls, or other remedial action required.

Any non-compliances will be identified by the EPA officer and followed up accordingly, with the officer talking about the issues and how the operators can comply.

The officer will be able to explain EPA’s role compared to other regulators and may occasionally undertake compliance inspection with a colleague from another regulator to ensure an integrated approach.

Reviewed 12 September 2022