The Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 are aimed at reducing the harm from work-related activities involving hazardous substances and sets guidelines for the safe production, transport, handling, use and disposal of hazardous materials.
“Every workplace uses some sort of hazardous substance,” said Melodi James, senior workplace advisor at Employsure. “Whether it is petrol, diesel, pesticides, fertilisers, and cleaning solutions, there is a real risk to the people working with and around them.”
According to James, the starting point for all employers should be to identify and assess the risks.
“Employers should start by making a list of the hazardous substances in the workplace, the quantities and where they are stored,” she advises. “Then read the safety data sheets to understand the risks they pose, how to use and store them safely and what to do if there is a spill or accident.”
James also warns that, from today, it will be mandatory to keep both an inventory of hazardous substances as well as their safety data sheets.
The advice for all employers is to only store what is needed, ensure correct inventory practices, adequate training, correct labelling, provide safety data sheets, and ensure incompatible substances are not stored together.
“Even the most safety conscious employer can have an accident,” says James. “By making sure there is an emergency plan in place, including who to contact, employers can avoid the potential $30,000 fine now available to Worksafe.”
While all employers are encouraged to re-evaluate their current procedures, James says those in the agricultural industry are most at risk.
“It's easy to underestimate the risks of using sprays and fertilisers,” she says. “The harm from these substances can take 25 to 30 years to show, which is usually too late to prevent the serious, sometimes fatal, consequences.”
New health and safety regulations officially come into force today and one industry expert has warned the rules are likely to impact every workplace across New Zealand.