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28 June 2016

Duty to notify of environmental harm – do you have an obligation?

Company directors, employees and contractors who fail to notify relevant parties of incidents that have caused, or may cause, environmental harm may face significant fines.

Company directors, employees and contractors who fail to notify relevant parties of incidents that have caused, or may cause, environmental harm may face significant fines.

The Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) is the key legislative tool to prevent environmental harm in Queensland. It also sets out a range of enforcement options that can be imposed when environmental harm occurs. The Act is the source of the general environmental duty not to carry out any activity that causes or is likely to cause environmental harm, unless measures to prevent or minimise the harm have been taken.

However, the Act also contains a duty to notify of environmental harm. The purpose of the duty is to inform the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) and the landowner or occupier of land about incidents that may have caused or threaten to cause serious or material environmental harm. This duty applies to a range of people including:

  • employees;
  • contractors and agents, including technical advisers such as engineers, project managers and civil contractors;
  • employers;
  • owners and occupiers of land;
  • auditors; and
  • local governments.

Landowners and occupiers also have a duty to notify DEHP if a notifiable activity is, or has been, carried out on the land. A notifiable activity is an activity that causes or is likely to cause contamination. A complete list is set out in Schedule 3 of the Act, and includes asbestos manufacture or disposal, printing, livestock dip or spray race operations, and petroleum or chemical storage.

Notification must be given within 24 hours of an event that causes or is likely to cause environmental harm. The specifics of this duty depends on who has knowledge, For example, a truck driver must notify their employer of a spill within 24 hours of becoming aware of a spill, and then that employer must notify DEHP within 24 hours of becoming aware. Any other person who becomes aware of an event must also provide notice, as must an owner or occupier of land, or an auditor.

The owner or occupier of land that is or may be affected by the event must also be notified as soon as reasonably practicable. Where the people affected by the event might be difficult to contact or ascertain, then public notice may be required.

Notification must usually be in writing, and should include details about the nature of the event and how it occurred. The DEHP has a standard form that may be used to provide notice.

A failure to provide notice to the DEHP or owners and occupiers can attract a maximum penalty of $58,900.

The specifics of this duty are discussed in detail in the Duty to Notify of Environmental Harm Guideline.

If you have any questions about your obligations under environmental legislation, please contact Leanne O’Neill.

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This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising from this publication, please let us know.

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