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Hazardous substances: How to get ready for this law change

New rules are coming on how to manage the risks if your workplace deals with hazardous substances. Use our 10-step guide to make sure you and any workers are ready — and know how to stay safe and healthy when dealing with these substances.

Hazardous substances law change

When: 1 December 2017

What: New laws on the safe handling and management of hazardous substances in the workplace. These apply to the 150,000 New Zealand businesses that make, handle, use or store hazardous substances. Everyone in those businesses will be expected to know what substances they are working with, the risks they pose, and how to manage those risks.

Why: It’s the latest development in the reform of work health and safety laws after the Pike River mining tragedy. Poor management of hazardous substances can cause harm or even death.

What you’ll need to do: Work through the 10-step list below. This sets out some of the new requirements for the safe manufacture, use, storage and disposal of hazardous substances. If you are complying with the current rules, then you may not need to change a lot. But it’s a good time to check and double-check your systems and processes.

WorkSafe’s website has information and its online Toolbox has tools to help. It’s also a good idea to talk to your industry or trade body about the new regulations and how best to comply.

Hazardous Substances Toolbox (external link) — WorkSafe

Subscribe for updates (external link) — WorkSafe

Each year there are 600 to 900 deaths and 30,000 serious health conditions stemming from work-related health risks.

Each year there are 600 to 900 deaths and 30,000 serious health conditions stemming from work-related health risks.

Many of these are due to exposure to hazardous substances.

10 steps to meet the new rules

  1. Keep an inventory. The new law says you must keep a detailed list of all hazardous substances used, handled, manufactured or stored in your workplace, including hazardous waste. WorkSafe’s Hazardous Substances Toolbox website includes a workbook with tips, checklists and a downloadable inventory form. You can also use the toolkit’s calculator to create and edit an online inventory.

    Hazardous Substances Toolbox: Workbook (external link) — WorkSafe

    Inventories (external link) — WorkSafe

    Hazardous Substances Calculator (external link) — WorkSafe

  2. Use — and share — safety data sheets. These record key information about hazardous substances, eg its properties, how to store it, what personal protective equipment is needed, and first aid information. You must get a safety data sheet from your supplier for each hazardous substance in your workplace, with a few exceptions. The sheet must be easily available to workers, emergency services, or anyone else who is likely to be exposed to it.

  3. Conduct a risk assessment. Think about the hazardous substances you work with — can you do without, or substitute a safer product? For any hazardous substances that remain after this assessment, you must put in place the controls set out in the regulations. Think about exposure of your workers to these substances — you must introduce measures to remove or minimise any risks.

    Hazardous substances: Risk management (external link) — WorkSafe

  1. Inform and train your workers. You must give every worker likely to handle a hazardous substance the appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision to safely carry out their work.

    Hazardous substances: You and your workers (external link) — WorkSafe

  2. Prepare for emergencies. As well as doing all you can to minimise risks, for most substances the new law requires you to create a plan outlining how you will deal with a hazardous substances emergency at your workplace. Think about what you and your workers will do if something goes wrong, eg:
    • someone is poisoned or burnt
    • a fire breaks out
    • there’s a leak.

    Hazardous substances: Emergency plans (external link) — WorkSafe

Toxic (poisonous), flammable and corrosive are all examples of hazardous properties.

Toxic (poisonous), flammable and corrosive are all examples of hazardous properties.

  1. Correctly label containers of hazardous substances, including hazardous waste. Labels tell people what’s inside a container and what steps to take to stay safe. Manufacturers and suppliers must correctly label their products, and anyone using them must make sure the label stays fixed to the container and can be read. If you put a substance into another container, you must make sure it’s labelled correctly.

    Hazardous substances: Labelling (external link) — WorkSafe

  2. Install warning signs. Place signs where hazardous substances are used and stored at your workplace, eg at entrances to the property, the building, and the rooms where hazardous substances are located. These let your workers and visitors know they must take care or steer clear — and alert emergency services to the type of substances on-site if there’s an incident. Signs must be clearly visible and let people know:
    • hazardous substances are present
    • the general type of hazard
    • what to do in an emergency.

    Hazardous substances requirements: Signs (external link) — WorkSafe

  3. Make sure storage areas and containers are safe. Store only what you need, make sure incompatible substances are kept separate, use containers appropriate for the substance, and label everything clearly. Depending on the amount and type of hazardous substance on your site, you may need special storage cabinets and a location compliance certificate.

    Hazardous substances requirements: Storage (external link) — WorkSafe

  4. Take care with hazardous waste. If waste from manufacturing and industrial operations has hazardous properties, eg corrosive or toxic, you must treat it in the same way as any substance with similar hazards. This includes:
    • recording it in your inventory
    • correctly storing and labelling it
    • making sure staff working with it have the knowledge, experience and supervision to do so safely
    • disposing of it appropriately.

    Hazardous substances: Hazardous waste (external link) — WorkSafe

  5. Provide protective gear. You must make sure workers handling hazardous substances have suitable protective clothing and equipment. Don’t just give your workers an allowance to buy their own. Make sure they know how to correctly use it and maintain it.

    Personal protective clothing and equipment factsheet (external link) — WorkSafe

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