Good Clean Water – getting it wrong!

Each month we are summarising a section of our new diffuse pollution training video. Last month we covered the planning stage – what must be completed and in place before any work starts on site. This month we are looking at the consequences of Getting it Wrong!

  • Diffuse pollution is a significant threat to our rivers and drinking water supplies.

Allowing muddy water containing silt and sediment to enter rivers and ground water is illegal.

When we get planning and control measures wrong it can result in heavy fines, clean-up costs, bad publicity and possible loss of business for everyone involved.

The regulators

The environmental regulators are:

  • Environment Agency for England
  • SEPA for Scotland
  • NRW for Wales

They are the main bodies for enforcing legislation in their respective countries. The environmental regulators have the power to prosecute both the company involved and also the employees.

The level of the fine you can receive for an environmental offence is calculated using three factors:

  1. The level of the harm done.
  2. The level of culpability (eg. was the organisation negligent, was it deliberate or reckless damage or was it low culpability?).
  3. The size of the organisation/income of the individual.

Penalties that can be imposed for environmental offenses range from £50,000 and/or 6 months imprisonment to unlimited fines and up to 5 years imprisonment.

In England and Wales, the levels of fines are set out in sentencing guidelines, these make thought-provoking reading. Scotland has yet to publish similar guidelines but, where environmental prosecutions have occurred, Scotland has followed an approach in line with the England and Wales guidelines.

For a minor localised effect on water quality, the difference in fines, depending on the level of culpability, can be large, for small contractors it could be a difference of £39,000. For Tilhill it could be a difference of up to £236,000.

In the event of an environmental diffuse pollution incident it is important to be able to demonstrate that there was low culpability – all that reasonably could have been done to prevent the event was actually in place.

Last month we covered how we must take reasonable care in the planning of the work, identifying the risk of pollution, and the controls required to complete the work safely.

We must take care to implement those plans, put in place the controls and manage the work to avoid pollution. If there is any doubt about proceeding safely without risk of pollution then work should be stopped and the manager responsible contacted.

Do look out for next month’s piece on Diffuse Pollution when we will have some examples of Getting it Right!

STOP, THINK, ACT and Know the Rules to Prevent Diffuse Pollution!