Toughening up Victoria’s dangerous goods laws.

Amendments to the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 (Vic) (Act) introducing new dangerous goods related offences and harsher penalties for non-compliance commenced 7 November 2019 following a swift passage through parliament.

The Dangerous Goods Amendment (Penalty Reform) Bill 2019 (Vic), was introduced as part of the Victorian Government’s response to the discovery of approximately 6.5 million litres of waste chemicals illegally abandoned in warehouses in Western Victoria. It also directly addresses the dangers faced by fire and emergency service workers responding to illegal and toxic stockpiles fires. Metropolitan Fire & Emergency Services Board (MFB) submission to the Victoria Legislative Council Environment noted that the MFB had responded to 20 fires involving toxic stockpiles in Victoria. The MFB expressed concerns about workers exposed to health hazards when fires involve illegal, non-compliant and unidentified toxic chemical.

18 of the 20 fires in the MFB’s report were at licensed facilities. Businesses receiving, storing or producing toxic waste should review current practices and take action where necessary.

Overview of legislative amendments

The legislative amendments:

  • will be used to prosecute and penalise duty holder’s found to be flouting the laws regarding illegal dumping of waste containing dangerous goods;
  • increase penalties for existing offences under Victoria’s dangerous goods regime to align with the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic); and
  • create a new offence for reckless conduct in relation to dangerous goods.

The swift passage of the amendments indicate the Victorian Government’s support for the EPA’s ongoing efforts to tackle illegal dumping of wastes. The EPA’s Illegal Dumping Strikeforce program was also extended and given additional funding for expanding its use of drone technology with ground penetrating radar to detect buried illegal waste.

Details about the new offence

The new offence inserted under section 31D(1) of the Act makes it an offence to recklessly engage in activities that would or may place someone in danger of death without a lawful excuse. These activities include:

  • manufacturing;
  • storing;
  • transporting;
  • transferring;
  • selling; or
  • using dangerous goods.

This new offence carries a penalty of:

  • up to 10 years imprisonment for individuals; or
  • a fine of 40,000 penalty units for corporations (currently $6,608,800).

Details about increased penalties

The Act has also increased the penalties for several offences. For example, under section 31C, where a person fails to comply with a relevant provision and knew or ought reasonably to have known that the failure would or would likely endanger the safety or health of a person, property or the environment, the penalty has been increased to:

  • 5 years imprisonment and a fine of 1800 penalty units (currently $297,396) for individuals; or
  • a fine of 20,000 penalty units (currently $3,304,400) for corporations.

The relevant penalties were also doubled for offences such as:

  • failing to comply with a WorkSafe inspector;
  • failing to take reasonable precautions to prevent the following relating to dangerous goods:
    • tampering;
    • theft;
    • fire;
    • explosion;
    • leakage;
    • damage to property;
    • or danger to the public;
  • absconding, discarding or otherwise neglecting to safely dispose of dangerous goods;
  • doing anything that would or would be likely to cause an accident involving dangerous goods; and
  • failing to comply with the requirements for goods deemed too dangerous to transport.

What is a dangerous good?

The Act defines dangerous goods with reference to the Australian Dangerous Goods Code. It includes substances that may cause:

  • fires;
  • explosions;
  • damage;
  • injury; and
  • death.

Common examples include:

  • asbestos;
  • turpentine;
  • petroleum;
  • liquefied petroleum gas; and
  • hydrochloric acid.

What next?

The Victoria Legislative Council Environment and Planning Committee Inquiry into Recycling and Waste Management concluded on 28 November 2019. The report now available here outlines the Committee’s recommendations for addressing Victoria’s waste crisis, based on over 700 submissions. The Government is due to respond to the recommendations in March 2020.

While we wait for the outcomes of those recommendations the waste industry should ensure that it’s stockpiles are compliant and it has adequate procedures in place for dangerous goods.

Get in touch about this article

Viv Lister
Waste & Resource Recovery

Posted on: 20 December 2019