The Environment has become a hot topic for industry and the household. Driven by public issue, marketing and consumer demand, it is now a matter of economic survival for the business owner or operator to consider environmental risks, costs and consumer tastes before supplying services and products. For the home owner, there are now concerns for the "private environment", the house, apartment or cottage. For all of us in the Georgian Bay Area, water and air quality continue to be topics of interest.
In the past many classes of people, some surprising, have been held responsible for pollution damage, cleanups, costs, and criminal penalties including: DIRECTORS, BANKERS, LENDERS, MORTGAGEES, OWNERS, OPERATORS, MANUFACTURERS, EMPLOYEES, PURCHASERS OF BUSINESSES OR LAND.
DIRECTORS of a corporation are no longer protected absolutely from liability. It once was that the director was insulated from the business risks faced by the corporation. Now directors may face stiff fines or jail terms. BANKERS/LENDERS/MORTGAGEES may obtain possession of property after default of the borrower's obligation and so will own any environmental problem as well. PURCHASERS OF BUSINESSES OR LAND buy the good and the bad. Some have found that their property has underneath it a dump site or waste spill. In this way, the purchaser has taken on a secret liability. It may be best to have a substrata or soil analysis done to determine what is to be found in the soil. The testing of a building's air quality may be another concern and can also be tested.
ISSUES FOR EMPLOYERS
The OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT provides that "an employer shall...take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker...". This would include hazards kept to a minimum. The employer is to provide safety, supervision, equipment, instruction and training, information on hazardous materials, and when necessary an emergency response. WORKPLACE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS INFORMATION SYSTEM (WHMIS) classifies hazardous products or substances and requires a supplier to give information to the consumer or handler. Usually this is in the form of labels, signs, or a manual of product safety. No matter if the product comes in a box, can, oil drum, tank truck or is piped into a place of business a substance deemed as hazardous under WHMIS or the HAZARDOUS PRODUCTS ACT, the employer has responsibility for compliance. For each product there is to be a MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEET containing detailed information for employees or safety inspectors which may be key to the damage control of a situation.
You should know that proposed changes to the OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT, will greatly reduce the allowable concentrations of chemical exposure to an employee. Anyone handling chemicals, may be affected by these anticipated changes which decrease the acceptable limits of 101 substances from anywhere between 1/2 of the former amount of chemical to 1/10. Some of these substances appear as rather exotic but may be as common place as formaldehyde, carbontetrachloride, acetone, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Water and Pleasure Craft Sewage Pollution Prevention Regulations
You have likely already heard that the proposed pollution prevention regulations affecting both large and small craft have been put on hold. Commonly called the "grey water" law, public lobbying and the inability of the provincial government to put in place an enforcement system has, for the time being, "shelved this legislation". It is proposed that this will become law. For now exactly when it will come in is doubtful. Governments work at a unique speed and it remains open to speculation when this will occur.
Under the SHORELINE PROTECTION ACT lake beds and shore lines cannot be altered without first obtaining the permission of the Ministry of the Environment. Fish habitats cannot be disturbed under that Act or the Canada Fisheries Act and may create delays for those who wish to install or extend their dock. Revamping the "old dock" into your dream swimming and sunning platform may require the approval of ministries or levels of government; discharges into water that are likely to pose a problem are prohibited under the Water Resources Act. The growing concern for all of this is perhaps best known by those who attempt to obtain a permit for a septic field at their cottage. Septic run offs into water is an issue for health inspectors and local governments.
Under the ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION ACT, the Ministry of the Environment must be informed of spills and other threats to the environment. The Governments of Canada, Ontario, as well as Municipalities, private persons, land or water owners, effected businesses and just about any other person who is substantially effected can sue for damages and loss under the environmental protection act as well as the common law. Fines under Ontario law can range up to $100,000 per day and up to $1,000,000 under Federal Law in addition to the costs of the clean up! The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has wide power to direct cleanup and even to restrict the uses of the damaged land.
EMS now appears to be destined to be established as a new term in environmental law. An Environmental Management System is a process in an organization that is set to deal with:
1. The screening of products with environmental liability, eg. fuels, chemicals, and specifically "problem products" such as solvents, heavy metals, batteries, waste oil, household cleaners, furnisher refinisher, etc. Ask, "If it comes in, then where does it go? Is it worth the risk? Is it worthwhile economically given the cost of disposal? Are there alternatives? Can I have greater success all around with a green alternative?"
2. The minimization of waste.
3. Reduction, recycling, and reuse.
4. Client and staff participation in the EMS, eg. blue boxes, separation of wastes into bins such as wood, metal, chemical, biological or compost, combustibles (oily rags, solvents, etc.).
5. Security systems on everything from inventory storage areas to fuel pumps to gates to water systems to waste storage areas. (Until a few years ago who would have thought about locking up a field where rubber tires were stored? The people of Hagersville know now.)
6. Safety systems such as fire safety, pollution control of both water and ground contaminants (absorbent material, booms, contingency plans, training, phone numbers and reporting, follow up), explosion or gas leaks, air quality.
7. Inspection of EMS.
There are consultants who are in the business of setting up EMS plans for businesses. Perhaps there is a plan outline for EMS made available to you through your industry organization(s). Prevention is always the best way to reduce costs and legal liability and may include the following steps:
1. Put an EMS into place.
2. If a spill or leak occurs:
a) limit risks to people;
b) limit risks to other businesses;
c) limit risks to animals, livestock, and the environment;
d) limit risks to environment.
REMEMBER, THE GREATEST NUMBER OF LEGAL SUITS AND PROSECUTIONS ARE DUE FIRSTLY TO FAILURE TO REPORT AN ENVIRONMENTAL SPILL, AND SECONDLY TO THE FAILURE TO ACT ONCE A SPILL HAS OCCURRED.
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