The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria, has recently released a draft of its newly proposed regulations, as part the pending introduction of the new Victorian Environment Protection Act.
CCF Victoria has worked closely with the EPA over the past year to assist in ensuring the new regulations are fair and practicable for civil contractor businesses, as well as increase awareness across the CCF membership and wider industry. This has been achieved through media activity and the hosting of a series of focused workshops across both metropolitan and regional Victoria.
The CCF supports the introduction of the new Victorian EPA Act and its imposed general environment duties, focused on the prevention of environmental and human harm, by requiring duty holders/responsible parties to do everything within practical reason to prevent harm to both humans and the environment itself (not dissimilar to the current Victorian OHS Act’s imposed operation of safety duties).
The CCF and its members appreciate the need for Victoria to have strong and effective environmental safety laws to protect the health of Victorians and to preserve the state’s precious natural environment. Whilst our members are always vigilant to ensure that environmental risks associated with their activities are properly controlled, they are mindful of the significant impacts a failure to meet their duties can have on the physical environment and on human health.
By the nature of their work, civil contractor businesses are constantly involved in activities which may constitute a risk to the environment. Predominantly, the type of work undertaken by these businesses involves heavy construction including earth breaking and excavation using mobile powered plant. The environmental risks associated with this work include the excavation, disturbance and disposal of soil which is industrial waste and/or may be contaminated. This clearly qualifies the owners and directors of such businesses as duty holders as defined by the Act.
Whilst supportive of the legislative and regulatory changes proposed to ensure appropriate protections for human health and the environment, CCF is keen to ensure that the Act and proposed Regulations do not impose unnecessary administrative and/or commercial burdens upon our members.
The EPA has welcomed feedback from peak industry bodies and other stakeholders, on the drafted new regulations, and as such CCF has submitted a formal response focused on those matters which most significantly impact on our member’s activities. This covers a range of key areas, including but not limited to;
- Definition of Terms – The need for clearer definition of the terms used in the Act, to mitigate the potential significant and unnecessary increase in notifiable contamination reports and notifiable pollution incidents, due to misunderstanding of the current definitions.
- Guidance Material – The need for published guidance material to help civil contractors better interpret, understand, navigate and implement the Act’s regulations.
- Contaminated Land – CCF recommends that the EPA provide detailed guidance to duty holders to assist them in determining the circumstances where notifiable contamination has occurred as opposed to leaving it to the duty holders to determine whether a person has been or is likely to be exposed to a contaminant. In particular, it is imperative that our members receive guidance about when they are required to undertake soil testing to identify potential contamination in the absence of a relevant site history, change of site use or environmental indicators of contamination.
- Pollution Incidents – According to the Act, a notifiable incident is a pollution incident (i.e. a leak, spill or unintended deposit or escape of a substance) that causes or threatens to cause material harm (i.e. not negligible harm to humans or the environment). As the new regulations fail to further define the term “harm” and given the breadth with which material harm is defined, (any adverse effect on human health or the environment that is not negligible), like notifiable contamination, there will be a significant volume of pollution incidents notified to the Authority once the Act takes effect. It would be beneficial therefore for the practical parameters of meaning of ‘harm’ to be better outlined.
- Unsolicited (Junk) Mail – The draft regulations propose to prohibit junk mail or unsolicited documents in residential letterboxes. However, it is considered normal practice for civil contractors to frequently notify residents using unaddressed letter drops to inform them of nearby civil construction work, so that the residents are aware of the works and they are prepared for any transport or other amenity impacts posed by those works. This is to benefit of the residents. CCF recommends that the regulations be updated to allow such important maildrops and that they are not deemed an offence.
- Noise – The draft regulations specifically exclude noise emanating from construction and demolition activity at industrial, commercial and trade premises from being considered to be unreasonable or aggravated. However, given the temporal nature of construction work and the fact that this work occurs at a variety of premises, CCF recommends that this exclusion should also be extended to cover construction and demolition noise emanating from residential premises, entertainment venues, parks and roadways.
- Environment Reference Standard – The Environment Reference Standard (ERS) is a voluntary code that sets out the environmental values and objectives for ambient air, acoustic, land and water environments that are sought to be achieved or maintained in Victoria. Odour has been added as a new air quality objective in the ERS. CCF recommends that odours created during the course of construction and demolition work should be specifically excluded from the ERS.
- Permissions – Due to the nature of civil construction works, contractors will be generating, transporting and disposing of industrial waste (which may also constitute reportable priority waste), and are required to hold the necessary registrations or permits for the transport of waste, and to track the transport and lawful disposal of that waste (where necessary). CCF recommends that the permissions process should be that which does not impose unnecessary administrative or commercial burden on contractor businesses. Clearer guidance material is also needed to assist with this.
- Duties Relating to Waste – CCF considers that the three-tiered approach to the classification of waste prescribed by the Act and supported by the draft regulations to be an appropriate means of classifying waste which will reduce the necessity for most duty holders to sample waste. However, CCF queries the utility of the introduction of the new Category D soils definition and corresponding removal regulations. CCF recommends that this be reviewed to be less burdensome to contractor businesses. Guidance material would also prove highly beneficial.
- Declaration of Use Tool – CCF is concerned that the proposed Declaration of Use tool in relation to the storage, re-use and recovery of different types of lower risk wastes will present as an unnecessary administrative burden to contractor businesses, and consequently act as a disincentive to compliance.
CCF Victoria will continue to work in collaboration with the EPA, to the benefit of our members and the wider civil construction industry.
For more information of CCF Victoria’s advocacy and representation work, visit our website: www.ccfvic.com.au of call our team on 1300 DIAL CCF.