Hazardous Substances Regulations in New Zealand
Did you know that about 1 in 3 businesses in New Zealand deal in some way with hazardous substances? This doesn’t just mean manufacturing, but also using, handling, and storing. For example, cleaning companies regularly make use of products containing ingredients that, in high enough amounts and/or used incorrectly, can cause diseases, injury, or even accidents like fires.
Overall, hazardous substances contribute up to 900 deaths and about 30,000 cases of work-related illness in New Zealand every year. Thus, the government continues to create laws and regulations in order to ensure safety in the workplace.
Among these measures include the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSW Act or HSWA), which came into effect in April 2016. HSWA states that businesses have the primary responsibility of ensuring the health and safety of their workers, as well as other people who may be put at risk due to their business. This responsibility includes providing proper safety training to employees, as well as creating a healthy and safe working environment that is conducive for productivity.
There’s also the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017, which contains a comprehensive set of rules that cover work-related activities involving hazardous substances.
The Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017
The Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 is composed of 20 parts, many of which go into detail about classifications of hazardous substances. The most important parts, however, are arguably the first few that cover the definition of a hazardous substance and how to handle different types.
The regulation defines a hazardous substance as a product, usually a chemical, that has the following properties:
- ecotoxic, which means it is toxic to the environment
- explosive, which means it can explode or can cause explosions
- corrosive, which means it can burn the skin or damage the eyes
- flammable, which means it can quickly burst into flames and burn
- oxidising, which means it can cause fires and explosions or make them worse; it can also be solid, liquid, or gaseous in form
- toxic, which means it can cause harm to humans through contact, inhalation, or ingestion, with effects ranging from mild to lethal
The regulations also define the kinds and hazard classifications of these substances. In addition, you’ll also find details about recommended safe work instruments with their requirements and special prescriptions.
Other crucial details in the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 are Parts 2 through 8, which cover the following:
- Part 2: Labelling, signage, safety data sheets, and packaging
- Part 3: General duties relating to risk management
- Part 4: Certified handlers and supervision and training of workers
- Part 5: Emergency management
- Part 6: Compliance certification
- Part 7: Controlled substance licences
- Part 8: Controls applying to all class 1 to 5 substances
Highlighting the Importance of Training and Certifications
Part 4.5 of the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations states that a PCBU must provide every worker who will handle, manufacture, store, or otherwise be exposed to any hazardous substance is provided with the not just information but also ample training before they are able to work or supervise work.
The information should include
- any and all operations in the work area where there may be hazardous substances
- the location and availability of reference materials on these hazardous substances, which include but are not limited to handling information, storage instructions, and safety data
Meanwhile, the training should cover health hazards associated with the hazardous substances covered by the earlier information provided. Other important details include
- the physico-chemical and health hazards linked to the hazardous substances that workers may come into contact with at work
- how to safely use, handle, manufacturer, store, and dispose of these hazardous substances
- practical training for using equipment for handling or managing hazardous substances
- subsequent actions that should be taken in cases of emergencies that involve hazardous substances
Record-keeping is also essential for PCBUs for the training and instruction received by each worker. Such records must be available for inspection by the authorities.
Other Important Things to Consider
Finally, in order to comply with hazardous substances regulations in New Zealand, you need to do more than just provide information and training. You should also invest in the following:
- Proper inventory. This includes creating a record of all the hazardous substances in your workplace. It doesn’t matter if you’re manufacturing them, purchasing them for future use, or storing them for later transport. If it’s there in your workplace, it should be inventoried. Even hazardous waste must be properly cataloged. In addition, such an inventory record must always be recent and accurate, as well as ready for perusal of relevant workers.
- Provide safety data sheets. This is a document that contains information about a hazardous substance and how to handle and store them in a safe manner. There should also be a section where the details of how such a hazardous substance can affect health and safety.
- Labelling and storing. Hazardous substances must be stored in appropriate containers with correct and legible labels. Every type of hazardous substance must be labelled, but especially those that decant or transfer into smaller containers either for processing, distribution, or transport.
Signs should also be installed near and where these hazardous substances are used and stored. This way, people can avoid them accordingly. Do note that there are certain signage requirements depending on the industry, so be sure to follow them.
Doing all of these may seem tedious, but it’s all in the name of health and safety. There may be substances that seem harmless at first but may actually be dangerous. Thus, it’s best to always be equipped with the accurate and most recent information and regulations for everyone’s holistic wellbeing at work.