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Know the Law: Spill Prevention & Dewatering

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A Guide for Construction & Maintenance Operatives

Environmental legislation is broad in scope; here, we offer a brief summary of legislation, regulation and best practice as it relates to the aspects of pollution that Green Rhino is focused on: spill control, spill response and dewatering. (What is the difference between laws, regulations and guidance?)

The bottom line: it is against the law to cause or allow pollution. Pollution is when any substance that harms or could harm people or the environment gets into the air, water or ground.

Ignorance is not a defence. All operators are responsible for understanding their requirements under the relevant laws and regulations. Observing best practice may offer some protection in the event that you cause a pollution incident.

In the UK, DEFRA and the Environment Agency (EA) has issued regulatory guidance on Pollution prevention for businesses in England. The EA no longer provides good practice guidance.

For this, you should consult the Guidance for Pollution Prevention series (GPPs). These provide environmental good practice guidance for the whole UK, and environmental regulatory guidance directly to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They are based on relevant legislation and reflect current good practice.

You can find a full list of GPPs here. Two apply to the areas of pollution prevention that Green Rhino products address:

Green Rhino is focused on eliminating the pollution risk from three scenarios common to construction sites, roadside works and utility asset maintenance:

  • Leaks and spills of oil-based pollutants directly from plant & machinery (Spill Pad, Mat, Nappy or Tray – Which is Best?)
  • Run-off or discharge of contaminated water either into surface water drains or directly into the environment
  • Accidental spills of oil-based pollutants onto land or into surface water

It is important to understand that silt/sediment is a contaminant. It can harm water quality, damage and kill aquatic life by smothering and suffocation, and can cause flooding by blocking culverts and channels.

You do not normally need an environmental permit for the short term, temporary discharge of uncontaminated water which is wholly or mainly rainwater, from an excavation to surface water. However you must meet the conditions of the Temporary Dewatering from Excavations to Surface Water regulatory positioning statement (Updated 30 April 2020).

Below is an overview of your responsibilities:

  • You must get permission from the Environment Agency before you start work in, over or near a main river.
  • You may need an environmental permit or other authorisations if you’re discharging substances to surface water or groundwater. (Learn more)
  • You must not discharge polluting substances directly onto land or into surface water (e.g. rivers, canals, drainage channels).
  • Site run-off contaminated with silt or hydrocarbons (from oil leaks and fuel spills) must not be allowed to flow straight into the surface drainage system. These drains discharge directly into the environment (e.g. rivers).
  • Excavations that are contaminated with silt or hydrocarbons (from oil leaks and fuel spills) must not be dewatered directly into the surface drainage system. This applies even to small, shallow excavations. See our Best Practice Guide to Dewatering Excavations.
  • Bunds or tanks that are contaminated with hydrocarbons must not be allowed to drain or overflow directly into the environment. See Best Way to Dewater New Transformer Bunds.
  • Oil leaks from motor-driven plant and machinery must be prevented from entering the environment (Spill Pad, Mat, Nappy or Tray – Which is Best?).
  • Fuel spills from refuelling and fuel storage areas must be prevented from entering the environment
  • Contaminated water pooled inside spill trays, nappies and absorbent pads must be prevented from spilling into the environment. (3 Ways to Generate Less Contaminated Water on Construction Sites)
  • Spills directly onto land or water must be contained and cleaned up.
  • You should have an Environmental Management System (EMS) that anticipates pollution risks, implements measures to prevent pollution, and details how to respond to pollution incidents. You must have an EMS if you have an environmental permit.
  • All site staff must be given appropriate training so that they understand the law, the risks, and your company’s policies and procedures relating to pollution prevention.
  • You must record all pollution incidents and report them to the relevant authority.

Environmental legislation and you

If your company, or the company you work for, is caught polluting the environment, the consequences include:

  • An uncapped fine
  • A custodial sentence (up to 5 years)
  • The whole cost of clean-up
  • Compensation for affected third parties
  • Higher insurance premiums
  • Loss of future contracts
  • Loss of reputation

If you are an employee, or run a small business, all these put your job and livelihood on the line.

So if you have ignored or paid lip service to pollution control in the past, ask yourself why. Why don’t you care about the environment? Why are you trying to swim against the tide? Enforcement of the law will only strengthen and penalties will only get more severe. So instead of resenting or ignoring environmental regulations, embrace them, take the lead in your team. Be positive about it.

How Green Rhino makes it easier to comply with the law

Many solutions for preventing pollution require third-party water testing, waste disposal contractors, or expensive machinery. This increases costs and can introduce project delays. Green Rhino’s smart pollution prevention products are designed to be 100% effective, low cost and quick to deploy – making it easier to operate responsibly.

Risk Contaminant Smart solution
Oil leaks from plant & machinery OilEnviroPad
Fuel spills from containers or bowsers
when refuelling
FuelEnviroPad
Overflow of contaminated water in
bunds or tanks
Oil & FuelOil Removal Cartridge
Oil Removal Filter
Oil Retention Pillows
Dewatering excavationsSediment / Oil / FuelOil & Sediment Dewatering Filters
Quick Response Dewatering Pack
Manual Bailer
Oil Retention Pillows
Oil Detection Strips
Run-off from site roads into surface
water drains
Sediment / Oil / FuelEnviroHorn
Run-off directly into waterwaysSediment / Oil / FuelOil Retention Booms
Drainage outlet from siteSediment & hydrocarbonsInline Filtration System
Spillage directly onto hard surfaceOil & FuelOil Retention Booms
Spillage directly into surface waterOil & FuelOil Retention Booms
Oil Retention Pillows
Leakage from utility poles and sleepersCreosote and other hydrocarbonsWater Remediation Chamber

Environmental legislation in detail

For detailed guidance and legislation, please see the following documents and resources:

Netregs is a useful website which offers free environmental guidance to small and medium-sized businesses in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

 

What is the difference between laws, regulations and guidance?

Laws, or legislation, describe the legal requirements, and outline the punishment for violating these requirements. For example, the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999 establishes that polluting the environment is a criminal offence in England and Wales and details specifically what constitutes an offence.

Regulations establish the standards and rules that govern how administrative agencies enforce laws. For example, the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 define which activities require an environmental permit and which agency an operator should apply to.

Best practice guidance is published by agencies to clarify the law and regulations. It provides practical guidance on how to best comply with the law. For example, the Temporary Dewatering from Excavations to Surface Water regulatory positioning statement (30 April 2020), issued by the Environment Agency, provides specific guidance for dewatering excavations on construction sites.

Best practice guidance is not enforceable by law but serves as a benchmark should deficiencies be noted in your compliance with the law.

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