Regulations for hazardous substances receive an upgrade

Thursday, 09 November, 2017

Regulations for hazardous substances receive an upgrade

New regulations surrounding the safe management of hazardous substances will come into effect on 1 December in New Zealand.

The Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 are designed to reduce both the immediate harm to people and longer-term illness caused by hazardous substances in the workplace.

A hazardous substance is any product or chemical that has explosive, flammable, oxidising, toxic or corrosive properties. Around one in three New Zealand workplaces use, manufacture, handle or store these substances.

This includes factories, farmers and growers, as well as printers, collision repairers, hairdressers and retailers. They are in commonly used products such as fuels and LPG, solvents, cleaning solutions and agrichemicals.

“Used safely, hazardous substances can contribute to the nation’s economic growth and prosperity,” said Brett Murray, WorkSafe’s general manager operations and specialist services.

“But they also pose real risks to the people working with or around them. The harm from inhaling toxic vapours or having contact with some substances is often unseen. Workers may be unaware they are being exposed, and the effects of exposure may not be seen for many years.”

Hazardous substances are a major contributor to the estimated 600–900 deaths and 30,000 cases of serious ill health from work-related disease each year in New Zealand. This is in addition to the fatalities and immediate harm through accidents, such as fires and explosions, and unsafe use.

“It’s time this changed. The regulations bring an expectation on all those working with hazardous substances to know what those substances are, the risks they pose and how to manage those risks,” said Murray.

From December, the rules for managing hazardous substances in the workplace are moving from the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO) to the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA). Many of the existing requirements will continue; however, there are some changes to improve the management of these substances at work.

“If you use or store these substances, you need to look at what has changed under the new regulations to ensure you are meeting your obligations to protect workers,” Murray said.

As well as looking at what is changing, Murray said people need to remember there is already legislation in place with which they should be complying.

“If you are following the current rules, you may only need to do a few things differently, but now is the ideal time to review your management of hazardous substances and ensure you are doing your duty to protect people from harm,” he said.

Businesses will already be familiar with the HSWA approach to managing work-related health and safety risks. From 1 December, this includes hazardous substances.

WorkSafe’s website has information, guidance and FAQs. Its online Hazardous Substances Toolbox can also provide assistance.

The Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 are available on the New Zealand Legislation website.

Image credit: © Le Moal

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