Doing the Right Thing

We’re spent a lot of time in the past talking about the DEHP, Environmental Harm and Reporting Responsibilities. We’ve really focused on educational pieces designed to help you know how the process is “supposed” to work. One thing that we’ve realised is that you may not know what to do when things don’t go the way they should. More specifically, what do you do when something has gone wrong and the process hasn’t been followed the way that it should be.

You may be afraid to reach out to the DEHP and report something when you’ve missed the deadline and you may think it would be better to say nothing. Aside from that being a further violation of the Environmental Protection Act, it just won’t work: Nothing stays hidden forever. The DEHP has a mandate to protect the environment. As part of enforcing that mandate, they keep a close eye on the sites performing environmentally relevant activities (ERAs) and any reports by the public.

Why dob yourselves in? Because it is better for you. It is always better to complete your reporting obligations, even if you’ve missed a deadline. Otherwise, in addition to fines or penalties you may have to deal with for the initial violation, you’ll be dealing with a far worse situation, where you are charged with failure to report and/or providing a false/misleading statement.

I don’t mean to lecture you and I’m sure you are doing your best to live up to your site license requirements, including proper reporting. However there may be some of you out there who need help because something has gone off the rails and I think it is important that you know you can still get support.

– Elena Moeller (Process Engineer)

Some Of The Things That Can Get You Into Trouble

  • Exceeding your licence limit (causing environmental harm)
  • Not reporting on an exceedance you have become aware of (failure to notify)
  • Exceeding your licence limit and not doing anything about it (negligence and causing environmental harm)
  • Breakdowns in communication leading to accusations from the DEHP related to false and misleading information. For example, if an employee back-fills his/her log sheets from a diary, the employer may have missed the window to report potential or actual environmental harm.

What Was SUPPOSED To Happen Next

  1. Report any potential environmental harm, license limit exceedances or unauthorised releases within 24 hours of becoming aware of the incident.
    The initial notification can be done to the pollution hotline: 1300 130 372 or email to pollutionhotline@ehp.qld.gov.au. Pollution incidents can be reported 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  2. Following the initial incident report, you are expected to complete all necessary investigations and make enquiries and follow up with a report (within 5 business days) containing, as a minimum, the following information:
  • Contact details of the person giving notice
  • Details of he affected land, property or business description
  • A description of the activity that has led to the event, provide a reference number for the environmental authority, i.e. the license reference number
  • Nature and circumstances of how the event occurred, including time frames
  • How and when you became aware of the event
  • If you have notified the registered owners or occupiers of affected land, detail when and who you have notified
  • If applicable, detail what rectification of environmental harm (i.e. clean-up) has been done, any preventative measures that you’ve put in place to avoid re-occurrences of the incident and any other relevant information to demonstrate that you are proactively rehabilitating the environment or putting measures  in place to reduce the risk of this happening again.

You can also use the standard form EM468 provided on the DEHP website:

https://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/assets/documents/regulation/era-no-duty-notify-environmental-harm.docx

Something Has Gone Wrong: What Do I Do Now?

First and foremost – if you have the opportunity to report within the required time frame, please do so!

Otherwise even if you are outside the required windows, we recommend reporting as soon as possible.

Then, if you would like support dealing with the DEHP, reach out to Simmonds & Bristow and we can help you by talking you through the situation, what is likely to happen next and how we can help. We have extensive experience in providing non-bias technical reports that are based on good engineering and science to support your response to the DEHP.

Whilst we are happy to assist you with your response, we much prefer preventing the need for it in the first place. Our experienced environmental professionals  and process engineers can help bring you water or wastewater operation into compliance.

Just call.

What Will Happen After An Incident Has Occurred And Has Been Reported?

  • The department will issue the licence holder with a pre-enforcement letter.
  • Usually the department will provide an opportunity to submit further information relating to the alleged breaches of the licence within a limited period of time, e.g. 5 days.
  • The minimum enforcement action penalty is a formal warning letter.
  • The maximum penalty is 6250 penalty units or 5 years imprisonments (761,875).
  • Repeat warnings are likely to prompt the DEHP to issue a show cause notice.