Compliance audit program

Ensuring industry, government and the community comply with environmental legislation is fundamental to environment protection and the delivery of credible cost-effective regulation. The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) uses compliance audits as a tool to complement its regulatory activities.

The EPA undertakes a program of Strategic Environmental Compliance and Performance Reviews. The aim of these reviews is to encourage industries to improve their environmental performance. The reviews combine assessing compliance with legislative requirements along with reviewing best environmental management practices to encourage improved environmental performance. Public reports are released and the review findings feed into licence reviews and ongoing compliance activities. Reviews also involve undertaking consultation with external stakeholders during various stages of the process, including upfront feedback on priority setting.

The objectives of the reviews are to

  • identify best environmental management practices 
  • assess compliance with relevant legislative requirements at a representative selection of premises via auditing, and examine environmental controls and practices at those premises 
  • improve regulation and the environmental performance of both licensed and non-licensed activities 
  • work with other regulators and communicate the outcomes of reviews 
  • provide the community with opportunities to provide input 
  • facilitate linkages between the reviews and programs being undertaken by other areas of the EPA.

The reviews focus on priority environmental issues. Sectors and activities targeted are chosen by assessing major environmental and community concerns alongside the EPA's corporate objectives and strategies. Criteria considered include: the likelihood of environmental harm to human health and the environment from an activity; the nature of hazards associated with chemicals used; the complexity of the activity; emissions and wastes from the activity; gaps in understanding the activity; environmental performance; location of the activity; community concern; the opportunity to make significant environmental gains in relation to the activity; and opportunities to integrate with other EPA programs.

The EPA also undertakes focused compliance audits conducted on any enterprise it regulates.

Compliance audits assess an enterprise's compliance with environmental legislation and regulatory requirements. These audits are generally unannounced.

The EPA also reviews its regulation of individual premises and industry sectors to identify areas where improved regulation will help achieve the desired environmental outcomes. This may include the use of other tools such as education, consultation and negotiation, and enforcement.

The EPA also undertakes audit programs or campaigns with other government agencies.

Audits are conducted in accordance with the procedures and protocols in the Compliance audit handbook (PDF 542KB). These procedures are designed to ensure a consistent approach to audits, helping to ensure they are all adequate, reliable and comparable.

The handbook is a guide for EPA officers but may also be used by other organisations undertaking compliance audits including public authorities, industry and industry groups, professional associations, consultants and contractors; and as an educational resource by students.

The findings of each audit and a follow-up action program based on the audit findings are reported in a compliance audit report which is sent to the audited enterprise. Audit reports can be searched from the Public Register online and select “Audits”. The EPA follows up with each audited enterprise to ensure that all issues are resolved.

Strategic Environmental Compliance and Performance Reviews allow the EPA to identify common issues contributing to any failure to comply by the audited sector or activity and other issues of environmental concern. These issues, together with information on best environmental management practices to improve environmental performance, are reported in Strategic Environmental Compliance and Performance Review Reports.

The EPA uses these findings to review how its resources could best be channelled to guide industry overall to address the issues identified in the report. Businesses audited benefit by understanding and managing the environmental and business risk of operating in their industries. Review findings are also a valuable resource to assist other regulators such as local councils to undertake their compliance activities.

Environmental compliance audit report – Wood heater industry sector in NSW

The EPA has undertaken a compliance audit program on the wood heater industry sector in NSW (PDF 1.7MB)

Wood heaters are a major source of fine-particle air pollution. There are significant adverse health impacts from exposure to fine particles, including cardiovascular and respiratory problems.

In 2016, the NSW Government adopted new national standards which set more stringent limits on emissions from wood heaters and improved their efficiency.
As part of its compliance audit program, the EPA audited 30 businesses representing all major manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers in NSW, as well as core and non-core retailers in NSW metropolitan centres and the main NSW regions.

This compliance audit program focused on wood heaters sold in NSW and their compliance with the requirements in the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2010 (POEO [Clean Air] Regulation), and relevant Australian standards relating to wood heater efficiency and labelling and marking requirements.

Environment compliance report - Dams at NSW mines

A compliance audit campaign conducted jointly by the EPA, the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) and Department of Planning & Environment – Resources Regulator (RR) focused on the environmental management of dam facilities at NSW mines (PDF 3.5MB)

To help mines improve environmental performance, the EPA inspected tailings, wastewater holding and sedimentation dams.

The audits focused on:  

  • requirements  in environment protection licences relating to dam management
  • development consents and project approvals issued by the DPE
  • mining leases issued by the RR
  • commitments made by mine operators in documents pertaining to the operation and maintenance of dams, as required by RR.

The EPA compliance audit report for each audited licensee is available from the public register.

Environment Compliance Report - Coal ash dams and emplacements

The EPA has undertaken a compliance audit program on coal ash dams and emplacements in NSW.

The EPA audited 7 premises which included

  • all 5 operational coal-fired power stations
  • 2 sites with ash dams where the associated power station is no longer operating

The audit program focused on ensuring that appropriate pollution controls and management procedures are in place at the sites to prevent and minimise the environmental impacts associated with the dams.

The compliance audit report for each audited licensee is available from the public register.

Environment Compliance Report - Compliance audit of coal train loading and unloading facilities

The EPA has undertaken a compliance audit program to check that coal train loading and unloading facilities are keeping dust emissions under control.

The audits focused on ensuring that appropriate management procedures are in place to prevent or minimise the loss of coal and coal dust emissions during the rail transportation of coal to the port facilities, and during the return of empty wagons from the port facilities.

The compliance audit report for each audited licensee will be available from the public register on the EPA website. A copy of the summary report (PDF 1.62MB) on the compliance audit program is available.

Environment Compliance Report - Compliance audit of polymetallic mines

The EPA has undertaken a compliance audit program to check how polymetallic mines, mines that extract metals such as copper, silver, gold, lead and zinc from ore, are preventing soil, water, and air pollution.

The EPA carried out a series of inspections at six mines located across NSW as part of the two-year industry wide audit program, aimed at improving the environmental performance of the polymetallic mining industry as a whole.

The audit program focused on ensuring that appropriate pollution controls and management procedures are in place at the mine sites to prevent and minimise the environmental impacts associated with polymetallic mining.

The compliance audit report for each audited licensee is available from the public register. A copy of the Environment Compliance Report: Polymetallic mines (PDF 2.2MB) on the compliance audit program is available.

Environment Compliance Report - Requirements for publishing pollution monitoring data

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) requires holders of an Environment Protection Licence (EPL) to make any pollution monitoring data obtained in compliance with any monitoring conditions attached to their EPL publicly available in a timely manner. The EPA has completed audits to determine if licensees are publishing pollution monitoring data as required by section 66(6) of the POEO Act. The EPA conducted audits of 200 EPL holders who are required to undertake monitoring. The findings of the audits are summarised in the following report:

Environment Compliance Report - Requirements for Preparing and Implementing Pollution Incident Response Management Plans (PIRMPs)

The compliance audits assessed the level of licensees’ compliance with the requirements of Part 5.7A of the POEO Act 1997 and Part 3A of the POEO (General) Regulation 2009 relating to the preparation and implementation of PIRMPs.

Joint inter-agency compliance audits - Environmental Compliance and Performance Report

The following compliance audit campaign was a whole-of-government initiative conducted jointly by the EPA (formerly the Office of Environment and Heritage), the Department of Planning and Infrastructure (formerly the NSW Department of Planning) and the NSW Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services (formerly Industry and Investment NSW).

Strategic Environmental Compliance and Performance Review Reports

Environmental Compliance Report - Liquid Chemical Storage, Handling and Spill Management

Environmental Compliance Report - Wood Preservation Industry

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