Understanding your General Environmental Duty and Duty to Notify

Exploring General Environmental Duty

The GED is at the centre of the Environment Protection Act 2017 (EP Act) and came into effect under the Victorian Environment Protection Act of 1 July 2021. It outlines new requirements to meet your environmental obligations. A core component of the new Act is a GED to businesses, which allocates responsibility of proactive management of potential environmental hazards. 

This article provides an overview of what the GED is and how it applies to businesses.

What is the General Environmental Duty?

GED is a legal obligation that applies to all businesses and individuals. It requires you to:

  • Take all reasonable steps to prevent pollution of the environment from any activity or thing that you own, operate or control, or someone else owns, operates or controls for your benefit
  • Clean up pollution of the environment resulting from any activity or thing that you own, operate or control, or someone else owns, operates or controls for your benefit if it does occur.

The GED applies:

  • whether your business is big or small
  • no matter what industry sector you’re in
  • whether your waste is generated on site by your business – known as ‘on-site waste management’ – off site at another location owned by yourself – known as ‘off-site waste management’ – through third party arrangements such as hiring trucks etc., known as ‘supply chain arrangements’ between purchasers and suppliers who are operating within their own premises but not yours (e.g., retailers).

Some common risks to manage include:

  • business activities that produce noise, odour or runoff to stormwater
  • the storage, use and disposal of dangerous goods, hazardous materials and chemicals
  • management of wastes and the choice of transporter or receiver of wastes.

Helia EHS can assist businesses to meet their obligations and help those in high-risk industries to maintain their environmental performance.

What is ‘reasonably practicable’ under the Act?

Under the GED, demonstrated performance by an individual or an organisation to discharge their duty will be considered satisfactory based on the steps taken to minimise the risks of harm so far as reasonably practicable. Under section 6(2) of the EP Act, consideration of what is reasonably practicable can be attributed as follows:

  • How likely it is for the risk to eventuate
  • The harm that would result from the risk eventuating
  • The costs involved in eliminating or reducing the risks
  • The availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or reduce those risks 
  • Knowledge about the risks, potential harm and means to mitigate the risks that the person concerned has, or ought reasonable to have

What are the penalties under the GED?

Civil and / or criminal penalties can be issued for both individuals and body corporates ranging from $363,000 to almost $2 million with higher penalties applied to aggravated breaches. EPA (Regulator) may take other compliance and enforcement action in response to a failure to comply with the GED. EPA’s compliance and enforcement policy (Publication 1798.2) provides more information on the Regulator’s approach.

How can you prepare for the GED?

There are a variety of documents available on EPA Victoria’s website that provide general guidance to individuals and organisations on discharging their duties under the GED.

Updates to environmental legislation, contamination profiles and emerging contaminants mean the landscape of managing your environmental risks is constantly evolving. Helia EHS routinely conducts risk assessments and compliance reviews to identify and proactively manage a broad range of environmental risks associated with our clients’ sites and/or activities. This ensures compliance with the Victorian environmental legislation and environmental risk responsibilities. If you don’t understand your risks, then you may be exposed.

Contact Helia EHS today here to discuss your GED responsibilities under the EP Act.

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