Duty of Care: What Does it Really Mean?

Duty of care

Every month when the Environmentalist from IEMA lands in the EMS office, we look at the prosecutions to find out what the regulatory bodies have been focussing on recently.  When we opened February’s edition, there was a very interesting prosecution regarding Duty of Care for waste.  Now we quite regularly advise our clients on Duty of Care, checking waste contractors and making sure all of the correct licences and permits are in place before allowing waste to leave their premises.  While our clients understand the purpose, there are few times they get asked to provide evidence, and even fewer times this request comes from a regulatory body.

In this particular case, the company allowed unlicensed contractors to transport and dispose of waste produced by its transfer station over a four month period in 2011, costing the business £16,000 in fines.  SEPA (the Scottish Environment Protection Agency) were investigating illegally dumped waste and managed to trace it back to the original owners.  Although not the dumpers of the waste, they failed to carry out the appropriate background checks on the waste contractors they chose to use.  When asked by the agency, they were unable to provide accurate Waste Transfer Notes (WTNs) and could not prove their waste was disposed of correctly and legally, meaning they breached their Duty of Care under the Environmental Protection Act (1990).  This quite obviously cost the company dearly.  In fact, only through early acceptance of responsibility and co-operation, did the company reduce their fine from £24,000 to £16,000.

You may want to do a quick check of all your waste contractors to make sure you are meeting your Duty of Care to be certain you are meeting your legal obligations and your waste is being dealt with correctly.  Here’s what to look out for:

• Waste Carriers Licence from SEPA or the Environment Agency (EA) for any contractor carrying waste on your behalf
• Complete and accurate waste transfer documentation – WTNs for non-hazardous waste and Hazardous Waste Consignment Notes for hazardous  waste
• Environmental permits / waste management licences / exemptions for disposal sites.  Make sure they are licensed to receive the waste you are sending to them.

Hopefully checks will already and have been carried out and everything will be in-date and in place, but it certainly can’t hurt to check!


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