EPA response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) prevention measures

The EPA recognises the difficult circumstances faced by business because of the coronavirus prevention measures. This page provides information on the EPA’s approach to our engagement with businesses, industry and other partners in response to these important measures.

If you need further advice, please contact the EPA Environment Line to be connected to an EPA officer. 

Topics

What is the EPA doing?

The EPA will continue to fulfil our responsibilities as the state’s primary environmental regulator while maintaining the health and safety of staff, communities, industry and other partners. That includes working to minimise any disruptions to our regulatory activities, to offer industry and businesses that hold an environment protection licence with the EPA guidance if needed, and asking for cooperation from industry and partners. 

Please be assured that the EPA will continue to be guided by the latest advice from NSW and Commonwealth health authorities and will consider the impact of that advice in the delivery of our regulatory functions.

The EPA has a business continuity plan in place which is being reviewed regularly based on the most up-to-date advice, to enable us to respond and continue to meet our regulatory responsibilities. The plan includes allowing staff to work remotely where appropriate so that the EPA continues to minimise risks to the environment and human health, prevent environmental and community harm and to continue pollution response activities.

As we continue to closely monitor the situation, we will continue to provide you updates. 

Responsibilities of the regulated community

In the event of usual operations being disrupted as a result of COVID-19 prevention measures, environment protection licence holders and other entities should have business continuity plans and environmental risk management procedures in place. Responsibilities include

  • keeping staff up-to-date about arrangements, the business continuity plan and their roles in that plan
  • informing EPA officers, when contacted, about the actions you have taken in preparation if impacted by coronavirus prevention measures.

All environment protection licence holders should also assess their Pollution Incident Response Management Plans (PIRMP) to see if they need to be updated to reflect the impact of coronavirus prevention measures. For example, additional mitigation measures may be needed if there is a greater likelihood of certain pollution events occurring due to the absence of key personnel.

If any significant risk to your ability to comply with your licence or licences is anticipated, please contact the EPA via the Environment Line 131 555. Licence holders should also

  • continue to make any notifications about incidents causing, or threatening, material harm to the environment in accordance with your reporting licence conditions 
  • report all non-compliances with licence conditions to the EPA via the Environment Line.

EPA COVID-19 regulatory response position statement

Licence holders and other entities regulated by the EPA should have business continuity plans and environmental risk management procedures in place to assist in minimising risks to the environment and human health and meet regulatory requirements during the pandemic. 

These strategies should be assessed and revised to account for changing circumstances, such as reduced staff numbers or the loss of key personnel, with particular focus given to high-risk activities. The EPA is available to provide advice or discuss individual circumstances as needed.

Any action taken by the EPA aims to ensure that the environmental impacts detected are minimised, contained or made good, and the sanction applied reflects the seriousness of the incident and acts as a deterrent to re-offending. 

The EPA has regulatory discretion to consider individual circumstances on a case-by-case basis and take into consideration relevant circumstances such as coronavirus prevention measures.

The EPA’s Compliance Policy (PDF 466KB) sets out the EPA’s approach to regulation, compliance and enforcement. The EPA implements an escalating response to environmental issues and non-compliances based on a range of factors such as the nature, significance and impact of the issue or non-compliance, as well as the compliance history and attitude to compliance of the offender

Information to include in the business continuity plan

A business continuity plan sets out how a business will prepare for, and continue operating after, an incident or crisis. This may include

  • identifying alternative measures where needed to minimise risks to the environment and human health
  • priority responsibilities of maintaining and operating pollution control equipment, and storing, transporting and disposing of waste appropriately
  • considering other challenges such as staffing issues or disruptions to the supply chain or communications.

Further information and resources (including templates) on business continuity planning can be found on the Australian Government Business website.

Changes to work days on construction sites

Building and demolition work can now be carried out on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, even if this is prohibited by an environment protection licence or a development consent, under a new order made by the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes.

The Environmental Planning and Assessment (COVID-19 Development—Construction Work Days) Order 2020 and the Environmental Planning and Assessment (COVID-19 Development—Infrastructure Construction Work Days) Order 2020 were made on 2 and 9 April, and will continue until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, or the advice of NSW Health changes. Spreading building work across more days of the week allows workers to practice social distancing as well as ensure that construction work can continue safely.

Hours of operation on Saturdays, Sundays or public holidays can’t exceed the hours already allowed during Mondays to Fridays. Some noisy activities are also restricted on these days including rock breaking, pile driving and other similar activities. The orders also requires that all feasible and reasonable measures to minimise noise are taken.

Environment protection licenses at construction premises do not need to be varied, as these orders override a licence to the extent necessary to implement the order.

Construction sites must still comply with other environment protection licence conditions, development consent conditions and other legal requirements. The EPA and local councils can still use notice powers under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act, such as prevention notices and noise control notices, if they need to deal with significant noise issues at construction sites.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment will be monitoring compliance with the orders, and will review them if there are adverse impacts on the community or from a public health perspective.

If you are concerned that construction noise is unreasonable or contrary to these orders, you can lodge a complaint with your local council or the Environment Line on 131 555.

Pollution Incident Response Management Plan (PIRMP) training and testing requirements

There are no changes to the existing PIRMP training and testing requirements due to COVID-19 public health measures.

A PIRMP must include “the nature and objectives of any staff training program in relation to the plan”. There are no timeframes specified within which PIRMP related training is to take place. Some licensees may have already completed training for staff and have the details recorded in their PIRMP. Any additional training required during COVID-19 restrictions should be undertaken in accordance with government requirements in place at the time.

PIRMPs are required to be tested at least once every 12 months and within 1 month of any pollution incident occurring in the course of an activity to which the licence relates. The PIRMP must also include the date on which it was tested, the person who carries out the test and the manner in which it is to be tested and maintained. While the EPA recommends that higher risk licences undertake more intensive PIRMP testing, specifically practical exercises or drills, there are no specific legal requirements as to the manner in which the testing is to be carried out. Licensees could complete testing via desktop exercise if required while COVID-19 restrictions are in place. Practical exercises or drills may be able to be carried out if it is practicable to do so while complying with the government requirements in place at the time.

Licensees should contact the NSW EPA if there is a significant risk with their ability to comply with the conditions required by their licence.

Licensees must continue to comply with the duty to notify the EPA under s 148 of the POEO Act.

Additional information on PIRMP requirements can be found in Pollution Incident Response Management Plans and Guideline: Pollution Incident Response Management Plans (PDF 2MB).

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