CMPA submission to the EPA Guideline for assessing and minimising air pollution in Victoria 2021

By on October 8, 2021

DR ELIZABETH GIBSON, General Manager of the CMPA.

The Guideline for assessing and minimising air pollution (Guideline) provides a framework to assess and control risks associated with air pollution. It is a technical guideline for air quality practitioners and specialists with a role managing pollution discharges to air.

Emitters of pollution to air have a responsibility under the general environmental duty to apply controls to eliminate or minimise risks to human health or the environment, so far as reasonably practicable. This requires duty holders to understand their risks, implement controls and review performance of controls.

CMPA General Comments

Inherent risk (mentioned throughout the Guideline) is a term that has been popularised by three of the big four consultancy firms over the last few decades. As a result, a number of organisations, government and the private sector have adopted this controversial term.

Today the most common interpretation of ‘inherent risk’ refers to the nature and level of risk in the absence of any controls. As such this is a term without any scientific foundation or support in reputable academic literature for its use in risk assessment.

The origin of the use of the term in this context is somewhat uncertain but appears to have been initially used by one of the big four firms in their early risk management products. Its early use was with respect to conducting a two-stage risk assessment process. The stage represented a very quick (and somewhat shallow) screening assessment. This allowed a large number of risks to be assessed without a detailed examination of control effectiveness occurring. The intent was to prioritise risk (which was termed inherent risk) with an intuitive appreciation of controls, not to assess risk in the complete absence of controls.

A shortlist of risks was then selected and subjected to a second assessment involving a more evidence-based consideration of control effectiveness.

There was never an intent to assess risk at any stage assuming the complete absence of controls. Unfortunately, over the succeeding years, the concept of inherent risk has been erroneously assigned this unfortunate meaning.

The world’s first risk management as developed in Australia (jointly within New Zealand as AS/NZS 4360:1994) by a team of experts that comprised the Australian Standards Committee OB007 – Risk management. A number of the internationally known risk management experts from these early days are still members of OB007 today. The Australian/New Zealand risk management Standard eventually transitioned into the ISO31000 risk management standard; a process led by Australia.

A consistent position of the OB007 experts over the last three decades has been that the interpretation of ‘inherent risk’ as risk in the absence of controls was a meaningless and misleading concept. Accordingly, the term is not recognised in Australian Standards or ISO publications produced by their respective expert committees. Indeed, expert members have published and presented at conferences on the misuse of the term of ‘inherent risk’ and that its holds little value or validity in contemporary risk management and can lead to poor quality analysis. Several of these experts have spoken publicly on how the use of the term ‘inherent risk’ demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of uncertainty and risk and should be avoided at all costs.

At its most basic, assuming the absence of all controls, will invariably lead to most risks being assessed as catastrophic. Even the ‘inherent risk’ of driving a motor vehicle is almost guaranteed to result in a major fatality incident by just turning on the ignition.

CMPA Specific comments

p.45 Table 1 – Level of assessment for mining and extractive industries should be changed from:

p.45 Table 1 – Level of assessment for mining and extractive industries should be changed to:

No assessment— application of best practice management, for example, CMPA Dust Management Guideline available at https://cmpavic.asn.au/publications/support-sheets/.

Summary

  • The Guideline needs to be made more simplistic and practicable which is near impossible with the range of extractive industry sizes that it encompasses.
  • The EPA needs a practicable and proportionate approach for small to medium extractive industries that benefits human health and environment, the extractive industry and EPA. As suggested, this would be achievable through the updating of the CMPA 2016 Dust Management Guideline (Best Practice Management) into 2 documents: Nuisance Dust and RCSD; to be reviewed by EPA to meet the intent of the new EP Act 2017 and associated legislative instruments.
  • There needs to be an impact assessment of the Guideline.
  • Inherent risk assessment step should be removed.

Conclusion

That EPA should thoughtfully consider the changes proposed by CMPA to the EPA Guideline for assessing and minimising air pollution in Victoria.

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