A notifiable incident means a pollution incident that causes, or threatens to cause ‘material harm’ to human health or the environment.
Pollution incidents usually involve a leak or spill. They can also involve an unintended or unauthorised deposit, or an escape of a substance which results in pollution.
How to know if an incident must be reported
You must report a pollution incident if it causes or threatens 'material harm.' This means that:
- there is an adverse effect on human health or the environment
- there is an adverse effect on an area of high conservation value or of special significance
- the cleanup or management of the pollution or cost of restoration would cost $10,000 or more.
Your obligation to report applies even where the incident is contained to your site.
Actual harm doesn’t need to have occurred for you to report the incident. It also applies where harm is threatened by the event.
Examples of the types of incidents to report include:
- the release is uncontrolled or unplanned and could cause material harm
- the substances are harmful to water or land in large quantities, such as a milk and organic materials
- a cleanup would be expensive
- the substance is a ‘substance of concern’ in the Environment Protection Regulations 2020
- the substances are dangerous or toxic and threaten the environment or people. An example being your safety data sheet indicates risk to the environment or to people.
Who is responsible for reporting notifiable incidents?
If you’re the person who engaged in the activity that caused the incident it’s your responsibility to report it. This is the duty to notify EPA of notifiable incidents under section 32 of the Environment Protection Act 2017.
Sometimes more than one person will be involved in an activity that results in a notifiable incident. At least one person must notify EPA. If no one reports the incident then everyone involved has failed to meet their duty.
This duty also applies when someone should have been reasonably aware of the incident. Not being aware of the impacts of your business activities is not an excuse.
How to report
As soon as practicable after you’re aware there is a notifiable incident, you must report it. Follow the steps below to report the notifiable incident.
Call EPA on 1300 372 842 (24 hours). You’ll be asked for the following information:
- your contact information
- your business name and address
- the time, date and location of the notifiable incident
- type of incident it was, such as a spill, leak, escape or fire
- what caused the incident, or you suspect caused it
- estimate of volumes released
- what you think the impact may be on human health and the environment
- how you’re managing the incident.
You must report a notifiable incident even if it puts your business at risk of legal action. You may receive a penalty if you don’t.
We will email you a notification form after you’ve reported the incident. Complete the form and return it to us within five business days. Your report of a notifiable incident isn’t complete until you return the form to EPA.
If an environment protection officer needs to attend your site, you may be asked to assist during the inspection.
When not to report
Take a common sense approach. Some examples of when you might not need to report an incident are:
- A small spill that you have contained and cleaned up on site (depending on the substances – as some chemicals can leak through concrete and other barriers).
- If a release didn’t threaten the environment (could not migrate to the land or stormwater drains) and would cost less than $10,000 to cleanup.
- If there were no known risks from the substance and the site can be easily restored.
This is a general guide – you need to understand and manage your risks, including the substances involved. Some substances might not be dangerous to handle, but can still harm the environment. If they threaten to cause material harm to the environment or human health, you must report it.
Regardless of whether there is a duty to report the incident or not, you still need to take account of pollution incidents. Risks should be addressed and managed as part of your general environment duty. You are also still required to restore the environment, whether or not it causes material harm.
How your reporting helps our community and our environment
Your reporting will help us to:
- respond quickly, where needed
- provide information to the Victorian community about environmental risks and conditions
- understand the circumstances where serious incidents can occur
- address non-compliance under the general environmental duty (GED).
With this information we can better support business and the community to prevent pollution incidents in the future.
Reviewed 12 July 2021