The Case of Australia and New Zealand
Like most advanced economies, Australia and New Zealand relied heavily on substances now deemed hazardous during industrialization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As a result, both countries now have relatively high, per-capita rates of hazardous waste. In response, both countries have installed relatively stringent regulatory regimes to safeguard environmental and worker safety. But some of those regimes have changed recently. This blog will provide an overview of recent changes in hazardous waste regulations.
Since the mid-1990s, New Zealand’s Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (HSNO) regulated the use of hazardous substances, creating “a regime of controls” for how hazardous substances were contained, labelled, stored, used, transported, or disposed of, in an effort to prevent contamination. But in the last few years, the specific rules for managing hazardous substances that affect human health and safety in the workplace have been transferred from the HSNO to hazardous substances regulations under the (relatively new) Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA).
So what should businesses know? Foremost, all employees working with hazardous substances have to know what those substances actually are. What’s more, businesses, including their senior officers, are now on the hook for the following broad requirements:
- Managing risk.
- Keeping an inventory of all hazardous substances in the workplace.
- Keeping a safety data sheet for every hazardous substance supplied to the workplace.
- Labelling every container of hazardous substances in the workplace.
- Properly packaging every hazardous substance in the workplace.
- Maintaining up-to-date signage.
- Preparing emergency response plans.
What about Australia?
Australia has had a relatively stable policy regime as of recently. But as in the case of many federations, responsibilities for hazardous waste regulations are the province of federal, state/territory, and local regulators. Broadly, federal responsibilities fall under the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 and the National Waste Policy. But the bulk of regulation rests in the domain of individual states and territories.
So what do employers need to know? Well, they have a primary duty of care requirement, which means they must manage the risks to health and safety associated with using, handling, generating and storing hazardous chemicals at a workplace. Those duties are as follows:
- Correct labelling of containers and pipework, using warning placards and outer warning placards and displaying of safety signs.
- Maintaining a register and manifest (where relevant) of hazardous chemicals and providing notification to the regulator of manifest quantities if required.
- Identifying risk of physical or chemical reaction of hazardous chemicals and ensuring the stability of hazardous chemicals.
- Ensuring that exposure standards are not exceeded.
- Provision of health monitoring to workers.
- Provision of information, training, instruction, and supervision to workers.
- Provision of spill containment systems for hazardous chemicals if necessary.
- Obtaining the current Safety Data Sheet (SDS) from the manufacturer, importer or supplier of the chemical.
- Controlling ignition sources and accumulation of flammable and combustible substances.
- Provision and availability of fire protection, fire-fighting equipment, and emergency and safety equipment.
- Preparing an emergency plan if the quantity of a class of hazardous chemical at a workplace exceeds the manifest quantity for that hazardous chemical.
- Stability and support containers for bulk hazardous chemicals including pipework and attachments.
- Decommissioning of underground storage and handling systems.
- Notifying the relevant regulator as soon as practicable of abandoned tanks in certain circumstances.
Looking to learn more about hazardous waste regulations? Download our guide to hazardous waste management.
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