Environmental incidents

An environmental incident is an event that is a departure from standard operating conditions that can or does have an impact on human health or the environment. Environmental incidents may include (but not limited to):

  • an emergency (see first paragraph of the section “Emergency response”);
  • notifiable incidents (section 30 of the Act);
  • an event that poses a threat to human health or the environment (which does not necessarily trigger section 30 of the Act);
  • non-conformance with an environmental performance indicator;
  • a complaint received regarding an environmental issue;
  • a failure of environmental control plant;
  • power failure; or
  • exceedance of environmental control plant capacity.

You should have in place an environmental incident response procedure. This procedure would identify such steps as (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • the purpose and scope of the plan;
  • responsibilities;
  • criteria for incidents, including the distinction between an incident, notifiable incident and emergency;
  • types of incidents and management of those incidents;
  • notification requirements;
  • incident investigation;
  • corrective actions; and
  • record management.

Emergency response

An emergency is a sudden disaster or accident that causes or threatens to cause severe harm to human health or damage to property or the environment. An emergency requires immediate action to limit its impact. You will have identified emergency situations during your risk assessment and listed these as such in your risk rating table. Emergency events might involve fire, flood, loss of containment (e.g. from tank or pipe failure), vehicle impact, or sabotage.

You should have an emergency response plan in place for your activities. This plan might include a description of the types of emergency, methods for limiting the environmental impacts, communications, training of emergency response personnel, and post-emergency actions. Your emergency plan must have mitigation controls in place to deal with the scenarios you have identified through your risk assessments (as required by section 25(4)(c) of the Act).

Depending on the scale and management systems in place at your activities, you may already have an emergency response plan. If you do, ensure that it covers the potential emergencies identified by your risk assessment.

WorkSafe Victoria has published guidance for developing effective emergency response plans, including a guidance note for emergency planning at a major hazard facility. 

This guidance, although aimed at major hazard facilities, provides a good model for preparing an emergency response plan for your facility. You should ensure that the emergency response plan is kept up to date, and that personnel are familiar with its location and competent to respond to an emergency when it occurs.

Your facility may have a combined incident management and emergency response plan. Whichever type of plan you have, you should ensure that the plan is kept up to date, and that personnel are familiar with its contents and location, and trained to respond to an emergency when it occurs.

Reporting of incidents and emergencies

Reporting of incidents, emergencies and near misses must follow a documented procedure. It should promote a culture of reporting, ownership and responsibility to human health and the environment. The reporting process must include details of the incident, the response to the incident, outcomes of any remedial actions taken, investigations into the cause of the incident, and actions taken to prevent recurrence of the event.


Reviewed 9 March 2022