From 1 December 2017, those who manufacture, use, handle, store and transport hazardous substances in the workplace will need to follow the new Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 (Regulations). At present the rules to protect individuals from workplace activities involving hazardous substances are set out in the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO).

As recently as February this year an Auckland nail salon was fined by Worksafe New Zealand for using a banned substance. The rules can apply to those employers who least expect it.

The Regulations are one of several that have been developed to support the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. It, therefore, is no surprise that risk assessment, including the eliminating and minimising of risks where reasonably practicable, is the focus.

Key changes to be aware of are that from 1 December 2017 the Regulations will apply to workplace risks and Worksafe New Zealand will regulate the duties and requirements to mitigate risks posed by hazardous substances in the workplace. The HSNO and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue to regulate non-work, public health and environmental risks, and specific requirements on importers and manufacturers of hazardous substances. This includes approving substances for use in New Zealand.

Other key changes made by the Regulations include:

  • A mandatory requirement to keep an inventory of all hazardous substances used, handled, manufactured or stored in the workplace, including hazardous waste
  • A mandatory requirement to have a Safety Data Sheet for all hazardous substances in the workplace
  • New certified handler requirements (instead of the HSNO approved handler) for persons deemed competent to handle highly hazardous substances in the workplace. Note that current HSNO approved handler test certificates will continue to be valid for the full period for which they were issued. Any new applications will then need to be made under the new Regulation requirements for certified handlers
  • Specific emergency preparation requirements
  • Specific requirements around providing information, instructions, supervision and training to workers to ensure safe handling and storage of hazardous substances
  • New requirements for labelling of hazardous substances in the workplace

Worksafe New Zealand is going to produce Safe Work Instruments throughout this year as supplementary regulatory tools. These instruments are intended to take account of the detailed and technical requirements relating to hazardous substances, which change frequently, to set additional or modified workplace controls for hazardous substances approved or reassessed by the EPA, and to help transition regulation of hazardous substances in the workplace from the HSNO to the Regulations.

While many businesses that comply with the current legislation may not need to make many changes in their day-to-day practice, this is a good time for those in the relevant industries to review their processes and how they keep people safe when working with hazardous substances. For example, reviewing all labelled products to ensure that labels on containers are clear and readable and making sure that inventories of hazardous substances are easily accessible in the event of an emergency.

Further to the general HSWA instruction, supervision and training requirements, the Regulations state that in addition, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must ensure that before a worker is allowed to carry out or supervise work involving hazardous substances, they must be provided with specific information, training and instruction (including hazards, procedures, workers obligations, emergency procedures). All relevant PCBU's should ensure that they have in place the appropriate level of engagement with employees regarding hazardous substances training and instruction. Training and instruction for each worker must be recorded and available for an inspector and/or compliance certifier.

The Regulations released last month are available on the legislation New Zealand website.