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Under the new regulations, it will be mandatory for businesses to create an inventory of the hazardous substances manufactured, used, handled, or stored in their workplace

Taking control of hazardous substances

The rules for work-related activities involving hazardous substances are moving from the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act to a set of regulations under the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA).

The new Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 will take effect on 1 December. They target a reduction in harm through safer management of these substances at work.

“Used safely, hazardous substances can contribute to the nation’s economic growth and prosperity. But they also pose real risks to the people working with or around them,” says WorkSafe general manager operations and specialist services, Brett Murray.

While the regulations have a new name and a new focus in some critical areas, this is not about wholesale change. “If you are among the one in three New Zealand businesses that works with hazardous substances, you’ll need to check that you are managing them properly,” Mr Murray says.

“If you already have robust processes in place, now is the time to review them. There may not be much you need to do differently.”

However, if you’re unsure where to begin, here’s WorkSafe’s ‘starter for ten’ – a brief outline of some of the key things you need to know.

Help is at hand

1. Useful tools and information are available to help you. The WorkSafe website has some great guidance, including an overview of what’s new or changing. The Hazardous Substances Toolbox includes the Hazardous Substances Calculator – a useful tool to help you create an inventory and start seeing what you need to do to manage your substances.

Know what you’ve got

2. Create an inventory of the hazardous substances manufactured, used, handled, or stored in your workplace. Inventories are mandatory under the new regulations. 

3. Have, and read, a safety data sheet for each hazardous substance in your workplace. These are not only mandatory, but excellent sources of key information about managing your substances.

Assess the risk

4. Look at your inventory and consider whether you need all those substances. Can some be removed entirely? Or substituted for a safer product? For those you need to keep, put the required controls in place to minimise the risks. The Hazardous Substances Calculator can help you with this. Make sure you review and monitor these controls.

Take control

‘Controls’ are measures that help you control the risks associated with a hazardous substance. Here are some of the key things to do:

5. Plan for an emergency: you’ll be planning not to have an emergency, but you, your workers, and emergency service workers need to know what to do, and who is responsible for what, if an emergency does occur. 

6. Inform and train your workers. Everyone who works with and around hazardous substances must have the knowledge and practical experience to do so safely. 

7. Check that your containers of hazardous substances are clearly and correctly labelled so people know what’s inside. Those labels must be maintained and readable.

8. Place signs at key points such as entranceways, and on buildings, or in outdoor areas, where substances are used or stored. Clear, concise information helps people approach with care.

9. Store your hazardous substances safely. Where and how you store hazardous substances will depend on the type of substance and the amount you have.

10. Check if you have any highly hazardous substances, or larger quantities of substances that may need extra measures such as a certified handler, or tracking requirements.

A positive focus

“With the new regulations we hope to bring a positive focus to the safe management of hazardous substances in the workplace,” says Mr Murray. “Everyone will be expected to know what substances they are working with, the risks they pose and how to manage those risks.

“The greatest change will come when, across New Zealand, hazardous substances are treated as an integral part of workplace health and safety management.”

 For tools and further information, visit www.worksafe.govt.nz and www.hazardoussubstances.govt.nz

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