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A lot of things we do at work can create pollution and waste. This can put people and the environment at risk of harm. 

New laws that come into effect on 1 July 2021 will require all businesses to prevent and manage the risks of harm to people and the environment from their activities.

What the new laws are about

The new laws introduce a duty focused on prevention, called the general environmental duty. This duty requires you to eliminate or reduce the risks of harm to people or the environment from pollution and waste, so far as reasonably practicable.

This means you will need to proactively manage the risks of harm, as well as deal with the impacts of pollution and waste after they have occurred.

The new laws apply to all businesses in Victoria, from small retail stores to large factories.

What your business needs to do

It is your responsibility to:

  • understand the impacts of your business activities on people and the environment
  • manage any risks of harm.

In straightforward situations, managing risks may be thinking through your activities and taking simple steps to avoid harm. For example, making sure your rubbish goes in the right bin, and chemicals don’t go down the drain and into our waterways.

Larger businesses or those with greater risks of harm may require other systems, procedures and documentation.

Some businesses may already be managing some environmental risks through their efforts to comply with Victoria’s occupational health and safety laws. For example, using and storing chemicals and fuels safely, and keeping their business clean and tidy.

If your business doesn’t take reasonable measures to prevent harm you could be breaching the law.

How can I manage environmental risks?

You can use this risk management process to help you get started.

  1. Identify any hazards or activities at your business that could cause harm.
  2. Assess how severe the risk is, based on the likelihood of it happening and its consequence.
  3. Implement suitable risk control measures.
  4. Check controls regularly to make sure they are working.

Steps in controlling hazards and risks infographic

Learn how to manage your environmental risk

Learn more about managing low-risk activities

Learn more about managing medium to high-risk activities

What else can I do to prevent harm?

Assessing and controlling risk: A guide for business (publication 1695) has more information on risk management. 

Use the Self-assessment tool for small business, which has examples of how to manage risks.

Our website has information and guidance relevant to your specific business activities.

Sustainability Victoria has good ideas for improving resource efficiency, including waste and recycling tips.

Note: From 1 July 2021, some activities (e.g. storing and disposing of certain wastes) may require a licence, permit or registration from EPA. Our website has information about licences and works approvals. The new controls and permissions page also has more information.

Self-assessment tool for small business

This tool can help you to check what actions you can take to manage the risks of your business causing harm to people and the environment. It isn’t a complete list of everything you can do, but it’s a good start.

Use the sections below, or download the self-assessment tool (publication 1812).

  • Work out what could go wrong

    • Identify hazards (e.g. chemical spills, excessive noise) and potential impacts (e.g. entering stormwater, disturbing neighbours) from your activities.
    • Identify likelihood and seriousness of risk/impacts.
    • Identify and implement risk control measures (e.g. use drain guards, minimise plant/equipment noise out of business hours).
    • Regularly check risk controls to make sure they are working as planned.
  • Use plant and equipment correctly (if you use any)

    • Regularly maintain plant and equipment and keep records of this maintenance.
    • Use and follow operating procedure/manuals.
    • Monitor and routinely check plant and equipment (e.g. for leaks, that they aren’t too noisy etc.).
  • Provide information, instruction, training and supervision

    • Induct all workers (including contractors) on the environmental risks on site.
    • Train all workers (e.g. on waste management) before they undertake any activities with risk or use any risk control measures.
    • Provide any relevant information about the nature of the risks on site and how to use risk control measures.
    • Supervise workers to ensure work is done in a way that avoids or minimises harm to people and the environment.
  • Ensure waste and chemicals are handled, stored, used, transported and deposited correctly

    • Keep up-to-date records and documents (e.g. safety data sheets) relating to chemicals stored or used at your business.
    • Use correct storage techniques (e.g. bunding), and store oils and chemicals in closed containers.
    • Use authorised waste transporters to collect hazardous waste (e.g. solvents, caustic cleaning chemicals).
    • Use appropriate waste disposal facilities (e.g. EPA licensed facilities).
    • Don’t put any liquid waste in the stormwater drain.
    • Protect stormwater drains and keep them free of material (e.g. litter, dust) from accidental spills.
    • Take e-waste to the right place.
  • Minimise harm if something goes wrong

    • Install adequate systems and control measures (e.g. fire alarms and extinguishers, overflow spill alarm, spill kits etc.).
    • Develop and implement procedures for reporting pollution incidents and ‘near misses’.
    • Report and act on pollution incidents and ‘near misses’, including notifying EPA where required.
    • Review work procedures and training following incidents.

Reviewed 23 June 2021