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Avoid Environmental Prosecutions with Stephensons Solicitors LLP

Leading UK law firm Stephensons Solicitors LLP has published its “Top ten tips to help businesses avoid environmental prosecutions”.


Leading UK law firm Stephensons Solicitors LLP has published its “Top ten tips to help businesses avoid environmental prosecutions”. By following these simple business practices, companies won’t just save money on costly legal proceedings; they’ll do their part to save the environment too.

When businesses allow their premises or activities to adversely affect the environment, they breach strict environmental legislation. This could be expensive through fines and losses caused by negative publicity.

Pollution is caused by a variety of substances such as oil, fuel, chemicals, detergent and sewage. All businesses are different and circumstances will vary, but these simple tips will help businesses to prevent pollution and comply with the law.

1.       Be aware of where drains go from the site and make a drainage plan
It is against the law to allow anything to enter a stream or brook other than clean surface water. It is therefore important to ensure that potential spills on a premises would not enter the surface water drainage system. If it does, there is a good chance that this could end up in a local river causing pollution. A drainage plan ensures businesses can manage their activities in a way which is likely to avoid the commission of such an offence.

2.       Check the destination of dirty water or trade effluent
It is not just surface water drains that businesses need to be aware of.  If trade effluent enters drains which lead to sewers a criminal offence is being committed unless consent has been obtained from the sewerage undertaker. Effluent which is released under a consent will have to meet certain conditions so will need to be carefully monitored.

3.       Materials must be stored safely
All liquids and oils should be kept in suitable containers, on impermeable surfaces. If spills can occur it is advisable to use containers with internal bunds, or build secondary containment such as a bund wall. Bunds and containers must be regularly checked to ensure there are no cracks or leaks.

4.       Know what happens with your business waste
All waste must be disposed of to a registered waste carrier. It is the responsibility of the company producing the waste to ensure this. If waste is ultimately fly-tipped, the perpetrators aren’t the only ones who stand to be prosecuted. If the business is disposing of its own waste, they too may need to be registered as a waste carrier and ensure that the disposal site has the appropriate environmental permit.

5.       Check whether special rules apply to any waste you produce
Organisations have a legal duty of care to ensure that, if they produce waste which is potentially harmful to humans or the environment, they are registered as a hazardous waste producer.  Strict rules must be followed concerning storage, handling and disposal of waste.
6. Beware when disposing of waste
Businesses must always provide the appropriate documentation when transferring waste to another party for disposal. They must also check that this other party has the necessary permits to handle it. A Waste Transfer note must be provided so that the recipient knows exactly what sort of waste they are taking.  Protect your business by also taking a copy of the waste carriers registration and any environmental permit from the person who is taking the waste off you.

7. Prepare an incident response plan and provide training to staff
Staff must have a clear emergency action plan should the worst happen in the form of a spillage of oil or contaminant on site. All staff should be trained in emergency protocols and have the appropriate kit available to reduce the impact of an incident on people and the environment.

8. Treatment facilities should be properly maintained and operated safely
If you business premises have a septic tank or package plant which treats sewage, or interceptors which separate oil from water, these  must be operated and maintained to high standards to ensure  they do not pose a pollution risk. If an organisation has consent to discharge they must ensure that their effluent complies with the conditions of that consent. A copy of all servicing and maintenance records should be kept so that in the event of an incident a business can prove that it did all it could  to prevent it.

9. Check any Permit Conditions
If your business operates under an Environment Agency or Local Authority Permit, a breach of permit conditions is the a common  reason for prosecution and fines are typically high for this type of offence. You must ensure that regular monitoring takes place to ensure that your business is  observing the conditions of its permit. If, following inspection by the local regulator,  it becomes apparent that you are in breach of your permit conditions do all that is required to correct the situation and take legal advice at an early stage.

10. Be aware of the Producer Responsibility Obligations concerning packaging
If your business imports, manufactures or uses packaging, or sells packaged goods, it must comply with strict regulations that it may be unaware of. Businesses using over 50 tonnes of packaging per year, with a turnover of more than £2m, must comply with the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations. These Regulations have been in force since 1997 but, due to poor publicity, many businesses are unaware of their existence.  Breach of these Regulations creates three offences for every year that there is a failure to comply, so fines can be very high.  However, self reporting is one way to avoid prosecution. By entering into an Enforcement Undertaking with the Environmental Agency businesses can repay any avoided costs without having a criminal record or adverse publicity.

To find out more about environmental law call Stephensons Solicitors LLP on 0333 344 4885 or visit


 Environmental Prosecution
 Stephensons Solicitors

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