Welsh environmental regulation during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has set out its response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, stating it “will continue to help and support regulated operators and individuals to understand and comply with environmental regulations through these challenging times”. With most staff now working from home, regulatory visits will be focussed on priority sites. Compliance will be assessed through phone calls and alternative methods of gathering intelligence 

NRW has issued fewer direct positions on potential non-compliances than other UK regulators; instead stating that it will take proportionate and reasonable approach to how it will assess compliance during this public health emergency.”  

Businesses and individuals are expected to continue to comply with environmental regulations and their permit conditions. This includes developing contingency plans and putting appropriate measures in place to ensure that all reasonable actions are taken to mitigate potential issues or non-compliances.  

If you can’t follow meet your compliance obligations

If businesses are unable to meet their compliance obligations due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) they are advised to follow these guidelines 

  • Inform NRW of the issues and how they are being managed at the earliest opportunity. 
  • Prioritise compliance with permit conditions that directly protect the environment. 
  • Take all practicable measures to prevent and minimise any harm to the environment or risks to public health. 
  • Keep clear and comprehensive records of any decisions made and actions taken. 

If these guidelines are met, NRW claims it will take a proportionate approach towards enforcement action, and work with businesses to find the best options to protect the environment. 

Temporary Regulatory Decisions

NRW has also issued a limited number of Regulatory Decisions (RDs) which state that in certain circumstances businesses will avoid potential enforcement action for non-compliances that occur as a result of difficulties created by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemicAn RD means that NRW will not normally take enforcement action against you provided:  

  • your activity meets the description set out in thRD; 
  • you comply with the conditions set out in the RD; and 
  • your activity does not, and is not likely to, cause environmental pollution or harm human health. 

Each of the temporary RDs sets out when they apply and the strict conditions which businesses must comply with if they are to be used. They do not exempt businesses from other regulatory and legal requirements 

Key RD for businesses  

RBB-C19-004: Providing signatures on waste documentation during the Coronavirus pandemic 

This applies to the requirements for transfers of non-hazardous and consignment of hazardous waste 

Waste producers and carriers usually need to provide a signature on the documentation recording transfers and consignments. However, if you follow the conditions in this RD, you are able to complete the transfer or consignment without providing signatures 

A waste holder will not be required to sign documentation if the following conditions are met: 

  • All the other information required in the waste transfer note/hazardous waste consignment note is recorded as usual, including the names of the persons involved in the transfer of waste. 
  • A record is made if any signatures were not completed. This can be either on the waste documentation itself or in a separate record. Written confirmation will also be required through email with information on each person involved in the waste transfer, their contact details and the date. 
  • All waste documentation must still be retained for two years for non-hazardous waste transfers and three years for hazardous waste consignments. 
  • Hazardous waste returns should be sent to producers as usual to ensure receipt at the correct site. 

This RD remains in place until 30th June 2020 when it will be reviewed. 

 It is advised to regularly check the NRW website for any changes to RDs and their applicability.  NRW is yet to publish all the RDs on its website but will do in the near future 

 As the situation with Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to unfold it is likely that we will see further changes to the way businesses operate and are regulated. Look out for future updates where The Compliance People will keep you up to date with what is happening, and what this means for you and your business.