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Manufacturers warned not to overlook environmental obligations

By: Stephanie McDonald
26 August, 2011

As public awareness of environmental issues has grown, so too has the responsibility for companies to effectively manage chemical spills. Not only can mismanagement result in fines and penalties for the company, but it can also mean fines for individual employees.

Most manufacturers have environmental obligations they need to comply with. Specific manufacturers and industries also have obligations due to their potential impact on waterways, the air, soil and noise.

"Complex issues arise when companies have to work on different fronts simultaneously to ensure that company and environmental obligations are satisfied," Kevan Goff, managing director of Ecospill, told IndustrySearch.

"Whilst environmental obligations may not have increased significantly in recent years, certainly the public awareness has and so has the scrutiny of these type of organisations who have the potential to cause significant negative environmental impact."

This has resulted in companies taking their environmental obligations more seriously.

"Gone are the days when companies only had to be seen to be doing the right thing, where beneath the disguise of daily operation, environmental impact was far from their mind," Goff said.

"Most companies can no longer ignore the growing noise from the sidelines.

"The public now expect companies and industries (with) potential to cause damage to the environment to change their ways."

Goff said one of the key things companies fail to do when it comes to spill management is making it a management decision only – operational staff should also be included. If day-to-day staff are overlooked, spills could be costly for both the employer and the employee.

A recent incident in Queensland is an example. A forklift driver was loading an insecticide onto a truck when the driver pierced the drum. Around 20 litres of the chemical spilt onto the ground.

To clean up the mess, an employee hosed the chemical down the drain, which led to a local watercourse. This resulted in the death of several fish.

"The DERM investigation found that there were no equipment, procedures or training in place ensuring an adequate response to spills," Goff said.

The two employees involved in the spill were prosecuted. The forklift driver was required to pay $8,800 and the site employee was forced to pay $21,000 in fines and investigation costs. The company was also required to pay $166,000.

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