Individuals and businesses are responsible for ensuring that their activities do not impact on the environment or community.
To prevent incidents from occurring or reduce their impact, businesses have a general duty to:
- identify potential or known hazards
- assess the likelihood and the impact of the hazard occurring, and assess potential threats to life, property and the environment
- eliminate or control the hazard and reduce potential threats by implementing control measures
- monitor the hazard to ensure any risk controls are working and, if there are changes in the process, that new hazards are also addressed.
Industries working with hazardous materials have controls to ensure their activities operate safely. If a risk cannot be eliminated, it can be minimised by:
- replacing the potentially hazardous activity with one that is less hazardous, such as replacing a toxic surface coating with a water-based coating
- isolating the risk by, for example, installing bunding and splash shields around chemical storage vessels
- removing or reducing the risk by using best practice engineering techniques such as converting an open solvent degreasing tank into an enclosed system to reduce fugitive air emissions
- changing management practices such as implementing routine inspections of all storage vessels for leaks.
To assist in the prevention of pollution incidents and to effectively manage them when they do occur, the EPA regulates certain activities that have an elevated environmental risk and may cause significant environmental impacts.
In addition to the licensing of polluting industries, the EPA also regulates:
- dangerous goods transport
- pesticide use
- hazardous waste transport, treatment and disposal
- significantly contaminated land
- control of radiation sources.
The EPA also:
- develops legislation, policy and programs that reduce threats to the environment from high-risk routine activities and incidents
- undertakes compliance programs and audits
- develops regulatory programs to improve areas that are high-risk
- works with and supports other agencies (such as NSW Health, SafeWork NSW (formerly WorkCover), Fire and Rescue NSW) in activities that minimise risks to human health and the environment.
Activities that help the EPA to effectively respond to a hazardous material incident include:
- active participation in the NSW emergency management framework at state and regional levels
- conducting and participating in single agency and multi-agency incident response and recovery exercises
- regular communications with other agencies on programs to improve a whole-of-government response to incidents.
Businesses that use or store hazardous materials should consider whether they have adequate pollution insurance cover in the event of a pollution incident.
As well as meeting day-to-day operational conditions, the holder of an environment protection licence is responsible for developing a pollution incident response management plan.
Transporters of dangerous goods must prepare a transport emergency response plan.
Major Hazard Facilities are required to undertake detailed risk management evaluations and implement appropriate control strategies and emergency plans under legislation administered by SafeWork NSW (formerly WorkCover).
Pollution incident response management plans
Part 5.7A of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 requires all environment protection licence holders to prepare and implement pollution incident response management plans that:
- ensure comprehensive and timely communication about a pollution incident to facility staff, the EPA, other relevant authorities as specified in the Act and people outside the facility who may be affected by the impacts of the incident
- minimise and control the risk of a pollution incident at the facility by requiring identification of risks and the development of planned actions to minimise and manage those risks
- identify trained staff who are responsible for implementing them
- are regularly tested for accuracy, currency and suitability
- promote community involvement and education in, and awareness of, environmental matters.
Find out more
For more information on what to include in a pollution incident response management plan, see:
- Environmental guidelines: Preparation of pollution incident response management plans
- Frequently asked questions on preparing pollution incident response management plans
Transport emergency response plans
Under the Dangerous Goods Transport (Road and Rail) Regulation 2009 (Section 152 – Emergency Plans) a prime contractor or rail operator must not transport a placard load unless they have a written plan that sets out a procedure and actions for dealing with any dangerous situation arising from the transport of the goods.
Download Guidelines for the preparation of a transport emergency response plan (pdf file) from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport.
Regulation of major hazard facilities
SafeWork NSW (formerly WorkCover) regulates:
- the storage of dangerous goods
- the handling and control of hazardous chemicals in workplaces.
SafeWork NSW also administers major hazard facilities. Major hazard facilities are facilities that have hazardous chemicals which exceed specific thresholds such as large chemical and gas storage facilities or chemical processing plants. They are regulated by work, health and safety regulations, including authorisations, safety case reviews and audits. These regulations give effect to Safe Work Australia's Control of Major Hazard Facilities - National Standard and Code of Practice, which aims to provide a consistent framework for the assessment and control of potential risks associated with major hazard facilities.
The planning process in NSW, administered by local government and the Department of Planning and Infrastructure through the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, provides the framework for ensuring that:
- community safety issues are thoroughly assessed during the planning and design of a facility, including a major hazard facility
- controls are put in place to ensure that the facility can be operated safely.
Some government agencies have officers on secondment to the Major Hazard Facilities Unit at SafeWork NSW. This unit integrates activities that these agencies are responsible for, including:
- development approval (Department of Planning and Infrastructure)
- emergency response and security (NSW Police, Fire and Rescue NSW)
- incident recovery and cleanup (the EPA).
Find out more
More information on major hazard facilities is available from SafeWork NSW