The Role of Environmental Audits

Posted by geologixaus on October 30th, 2019

Environmental audits are used by regulators to help manage the assessment and remediation of contaminated land. The purpose of an environmental audit is to review the work of environmental consultants to ensure that they have complied with the many regulations and guidelines that aim to make contaminated land safe for a proposed use.

Who can perform an environmental audit?

Environmental audits can only be undertaken by an appointed auditor who has been certified by a regulatory agency such as the EPA. Whilst requirements vary across Australian states, all accredited auditors will be highly experienced in site contamination assessment and management and have up to date scientific knowledge on contamination and remediation techniques. It is also compulsory for auditors to have an in-depth understanding of national legislation and the regulations and guidelines relevant to their jurisdiction.

When are environmental audits needed?

An environmental audit can be triggered by:

  • legislation
  • development processes, especially where land is being developed for a more sensitive use; and
  • due diligence.

Regulators seek audits of environmental investigations or remediation and validation works to make sure they are robust and accurate. When required for statutory purposes, they are used by regulatory authorities, local councils and planning authorities. Audits help support decisions on whether land is suitable for a current or proposed land use. They are especially important for land development decisions involving industrial land that is proposed for a more sensitive use such as residential buildings or child care facilities. Planning authorities are required to consider the potential for land contamination and ensure it is appropriately managed before development consent can be given.

Audits can also be requested by anyone with an interest in a site such as an owner, occupier or potential buyer. These audits are voluntary or ‘non-statutory’. They can be commissioned for added assurance regarding contamination risks, to seek an independent review of site reports or works, or to determine the appropriateness of an investigation, remedial action plan or management plan for a particular use. Site audits can also assist in removing a site from a contaminated land register.

Components of an audit

There is no substantial difference between audits that are legally triggered or voluntarily requested. A successful audit process usually comprises the following:

  • a detailed review of reports prepared by environmental consultants;
  • evaluation of the quality, completeness and appropriateness of assessment or remediation activities;
  • interim audit advice;
  • liaising with stakeholders, including regulators; and
  • preparing a site audit report and site audit statement.

Throughout the audit, the auditor may issue ‘interim advice’ which is a formal opinion on aspects of the audit such as data gaps, remediation strategy or incomplete works. Interim audit advice are included in the final report.

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