VIC to launch review of state’s dangerous goods laws

The Victorian Government has announced it will undertake a comprehensive review of the state’s dangerous goods laws in a bid to stamp out unsafe chemical stockpiling.

According to Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy, Andrew Palmer, QC, has been appointed to conduct the review of the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 and associated regulations.

“The review is the latest step in the government’s ongoing response to chemical stockpiling after two large chemical fires in West Footscray in August 2018 and Campbellfield in April 2019,” she said.

“We know that the unsafe storing, handling or disposal of dangerous chemicals poses a real threat to local communities. This review will make sure dangerous goods laws remain effective and keep Victorian’s safe.”

Immediately following the 2018 fire, Ms. Hennessy said WorkSafe led a “blitz” on industrial premises to ensure dangerous chemicals were being stored correctly.

“Government agency investigations led to the discovery of waste chemicals stockpiled at 13 sites in Melbourne’s north last year,” she said.

“A WorkSafe-led taskforce has so far removed more than 13 million litres of the stockpiled waste chemicals, clearing four sites in Epping, three in Craigieburn and three in Campbellfield. The final three sites in Campbellfield are currently being cleared.”

The state government last year introduced new penalties of up to 10 years in jail and fines of more than $6.4 million for rogue operators who manufacture, store, transport, transfer, sell or use dangerous goods in a way that places another person in danger of death.

Penalties were also increased for failing to comply with the direction of a WorkSafe Inspector, and other duties under the Dangerous Goods Act 1985.

“A review of the Act is important to ensure our laws are up to the task of protecting the community from the unacceptable risk that stockpiling of dangerous goods poses, and to deal with those who do it,” Ms Hennessy said.

A final report and recommendations are expected to be delivered to the government next year, with opportunities for public comment and stakeholder engagement later this year.

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New penalties for chemical stockpiling

Rogue operators who stockpile dangerous chemicals could face up to 10 years in jail, as part of Victoria’s new Dangerous Goods Amendment (Penalty Reform) Bill.

The Victorian Government announced it would crack down on operators who disregard dangerous good laws, following the discovery of millions of litres of waste chemicals stockpiled in northern suburbs warehouses earlier this year.

In a 27 August tweet, Premier Daniel Andrews said operators putting lives and health at risk would face jail time and fines in the millions.

“This is a message for any chemical cowboys out there who think they can treat our state as a dumping ground,” Mr Andrews said.

“We said we’d change the law – and today in Parliament, we’re doing just that.”

Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy said a new offence will be created for those that engage in the manufacture, storage, transport, transfer, sale or use dangerous goods in a way that places, or may place, another person in danger of death.

“Body corporates who are found guilty of this offence could face fines of more than $6.4 million,” Ms Hennessy said.

“Existing maximum penalties for endangering health and safety, property or the environment will be increased from four to five years imprisonment and from $165,000 to $297,000 in fines for individuals.”

Penalties will also be increased for failing to comply with the direction of a WorkSafe Inspector, and other duties under the Dangerous Goods Act.

WorkSafe is currently leading a government agency taskforce to remove waste chemicals from 13 sites in Epping, Campbellfield and Craigieburn.

“The clearing of these sites is well underway with approximately 6.5 million litres of waste chemicals having been removed thus far,” Ms Hennessy said.

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