Federal Environmental Laws: An Overview
Environmental laws may exist at the federal, state or local levels, and all business owners across the United States must adhere to the laws in place federally. One of the first environmental laws enacted is the National Environmental Policy Act, which dictates that the government must conduct appropriate research prior to beginning any projects or actions that may have negative environmental implications.
Additional notable federal environmental laws include the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, both of which are enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Air Act sets guidelines for clean air emissions, while the Clean Water Act prohibits business owners from dumping pollutants into American waters without special permission.
Another law of significance to today’s small business owners is the Occupational Safety & Health Act, which is designed to ensure a safe work environment for U.S. employees across all industries. Not all facets of OSHA involve environmental considerations, but some, such as those that address toxic substances in the work environment, are especially significant and are therefore particularly critical for modern business owners to understand.
Business owners should also familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations outlined by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, which provides clarification as to how hazardous waste and pollutants must be disposed of to ensure a minimal impact on the environment. Along those same lines, the Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act is designed to offer guidance as to how society must be alerted in the event of a hazardous waste issue or similar occurrence, and how such occurrences must be managed to ensure the health and safety of the community-at-large.
Yet another federal environmental law of relevance to business owners in the farming and agricultural industries is the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, which dictates which types of chemicals and substances can lawfully be used in farming and related practices. Furthermore, it stipulates that farmers and other company owners who use pesticides must not only pass a test prior to using these substances, but that they also must register their pesticide purchases with a governing body.
While many other federal environmental laws exist, those described above are among those especially relevant to today’s modern business owners.
Defining Hazardous Waste
Many of today’s environmental laws in place at the local, state and federal levels discuss what is known as hazardous waste. Hazardous waste is identified by the EPA, and the organization currently lists about 500 different forms of it. Essentially, a substance has to fit specific criteria in order to be considered hazardous waste. First, it must be something that can be burned. Second, the substance must explosive, and third, it must contain particular amounts of chemicals that are considered toxic to human or animal life. Today’s hazardous waste laws offer clarification as to where and how these types of substances or materials must be disposed of in order to not negatively impact life.
Maintaining a Safe Work Environment
Today’s employers have a responsibility to their workers to create and maintain a safe, hazard-free work environment. When proper efforts and actions aren’t taken to ensure this happens, any number of health issues may result. Ailments such as asthma, nausea and fatigue are among the many that may result from working in unsafe or hazardous buildings, and any number of everyday substances or products can be the source of the hazardous substance. To minimize the impact and reduce the likelihood of an employee developing health issues related to hazardous materials or contamination, employers can take a number of steps. They should take care to dispose of trash and waste regularly and efficiently, and they should also clean, dust and vacuum indoor work environments to minimize the presence of potentially harmful toxins. It’s also important to ensure proper ventilation throughout a workspace and to minimize the use of certain chemical-laden pest control products.
Environmental laws are designed and intended to not only keep employees safe while at work, but to protect the planet and its resources for future generations. It is essential that today’s employers understand any environmental laws that apply to them locally and federally to avoid breaking them and running the risk of an employee lawsuit or other legal action.
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