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What are the costs of an environmental breach in Australia?

 

Compliance is essential in every industry, but takes on particular importance in processing plants and manufacturing facilities where due to the products, components and processes involved and also the waste byproducts, there is more potential for things to go wrong. In addition to all the standard issues that every business must deal with, these companies tend to have additional matters and challenges to consider and action in order to maintain compliance.

For example, plant and equipment must be maintained to avoid accidents, WHS takes on greater importance due to the associated hazards and subsequent increased risk associated with not maintaining such assets. Furthermore, the use of contractors necessitates a site-specific induction before accessing the site, completing a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) and commencing agreed services. These considerations are amplified by the simple fact that any oversight can have far greater implications than the ethical considerations surrounding preventable employee injury or workplace damage. While these are of course critical areas for compliance, there's also a need to mitigate the risks associated with an environmental breach, which can result in significant fines and reputational risk.

Companies large and small are all at risk of being fined by the EPA over environmental breaches.

The costs of an environmental breach

You might think that the costs of an environmental breach are something that only larger oil, petroleum or manufacturing companies need to worry about. This is certainly true at the upper end of the spectrum, especially in light of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recent decision to hit Caltex Australia with a $400,000 fine following the company's 2013 oil spill in NSW. As part of the decision, EPA Chair and CEO Barry Buffier pointed out that the incident could have been easily avoided if "Caltex applied their own required processes."

"It is the role of companies within our community to ensure that they are operating in an environmentally safe and responsible manner, and in this instance that was unfortunately not the case," he said.

While stories like this may grab the headlines, the truth is that companies large and small are all at risk of being fined by the EPA over environmental breaches. In fact, the agency continues to crack down on these offences, with the NSW EPA having the authority to hand out on-the-spot fines of $15,000 since 2014, which according to Environment Minister Rob Stokes has resulted in a 10-fold increase in fines.

 

"The fines [were] not big enough to send a clear message to environmental offenders to dissuade them from their activities, so it's been very important to send a clear message that environment crime won't be tolerated," he explained to ABC News.

Aside from the financial implications of an environmental breach, a business's reputation can take a substantial beating as a result of an EPA decision, reducing confidence in the brand, questioning its ethical and corporate governance and potentially impacting profits further down the track.

For both of these reasons, it is critical to ensure that appropriate compliance measures are implemented to ensure that environmental standards are maintained to at the very least minimum acceptable standards, and where appropriate and possible, exceeded. This is where Smartek can help

It's important to make sure that compliance processes are tailored to the unique needs of each business.

Environmental compliance with Smartek

There are a few key obstacles to environmental compliance for plants and facilities, including the frequent use of contractors, chance of equipment failure, storage and/or use of hazardous/dangerous goods – substances and management of any byproducts and waste in accordance with and regulatory requirements. Smartek will assist with the management of all of these issues and many more, providing a complete compliance management solution that will save a business time and money and allow them to measure, monitor and demonstrate their environmental compliance status, enabling informed decision making.

Because every facility is different, it's important to ensure that compliance processes are tailored to the unique needs of each business. Smartek is fully-customisable, and can be used to control and monitor all aspects of compliance across a facility where environmental regulations apply. Processes such as a site-specific induction can be completed online and recorded within Smartek as an employee compliance and combined with their company compliances, incorporated into an automated site access check, ensuring that each and every contractor who may attend your site is registered and certified as site-compliant prior to being granted access to commence services/works at your site.

Smartek also offers a range of other benefits including live real-time site data and individual site reports, providing managers with quick, easy access to any information that they may need, along with a register of equipment to ensure maintenance is carried out as and when required.

With an increased emphasis from regulatory authorities enforcing environmental regulations whilst continuing to fine and prosecute for confirmed breaches, it's critical for every business to be on top of their compliance obligations. With more than 20 years of operation and over 12,000 companies using Smartek, it's the perfect solution to ensure your business is protected from the costs, ethical dilemma and reputational consequences arising from a breach.

Get in touch with the Smartek team today to learn more. 

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