Keeping workers safe around hazardous substances

New regulations aimed at reducing the number of deaths and injuries caused by hazardous substances in the workplace have been released. The Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 will come into force on 1 December.

The rules for the work-related use of hazardous substances move from the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996 to the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA). Responsibility for administering the rules will shift from the Environmental Protection Authority to WorkSafe New Zealand.

This will help simplify the regulatory landscape. In relation to health and safety in the workplace, the majority of affected organisations will now only need to deal with one regulator, one set of legislation, and one set of guidance.

The rules target a reduction in immediate harm and longer term illness caused by the work-related use of hazardous substances.

About 150,000 New Zealand workplaces use, manufacture, handle or store hazardous substances. These are substances that are explosive, flammable, oxidising, toxic or corrosive.

“If you use or store these substances, you need to look at what has changed under the new regulations to ensure you are meeting your obligations to protect workers,” WorkSafe’s General Manager Operations and Specialist Services Brett Murray says.

“The regulations bring an expectation on all those working with hazardous substances to know what those substances are, the risks they pose and how to manage those risks,” Mr Murray says.

“Used safely, they can contribute to the nation’s economic growth and prosperity. But they also pose real risks to the people working with or around them.”

Each year in New Zealand there are an estimated 600-900 deaths and 30,000 cases of serious ill health from work-related disease. Many of these are due to exposure to hazardous substances. This is in addition to the cases of immediate harm caused by accidents and the improper use of hazardous substances.

“It’s about helping to ensure our people get home healthy and safe,” Mr Murray says.

“Now is a great time to review your hazardous substances management and make sure you are complying with your duty to protect people from harm in your workplace.”

The new regulations are not about wholesale change. The approach has been to transfer requirements applying under the HSNO regime to the HSWA regime, but with some changes aimed at improving the safe management of hazardous substances in the workplace.

WorkSafe will provide guidance, information and tools to help organisations understand their obligations. There is already updated information on the WorkSafe website. The Hazardous Substances Toolbox will be updated shortly.

The Regulations are available now on the New Zealand Legislation website.

Q & A

What are hazardous substances?

Hazardous Substances are substances that are explosive, flammable, oxidising, toxic, or corrosive. (A substance that is toxic to the environment will continue to be regulated by the Environmental Protection Authority under the HNSO regime.)

A hazardous substance may be a single chemical or a mixture of both hazardous and non-hazardous chemicals.

Why this change?

Hazardous substances were identified by the Independent Task Force on Workplace Health and Safety (set up after the Pike River Mine explosion) as a key area of work-related health and safety that needs to improve.

The reforms will help reduce both immediate harm and longer term illnesses caused by the work-related use of hazardous substances. It will do this by simplifying the regulatory landscape for hazardous substances. This will make it simpler for businesses to understand their obligations and comply with the law by bringing different sets of rules together into one place.

What’s changing?

It’s not about wholesale change. The work-related regulation of hazardous substances is moving from one Act and set of regulations to another, but with some changes. If you are complying with the current hazardous substances law, then you may not need to change a lot but this is an important time for all businesses to review their processes for keeping people safe around hazardous substances.

WorkSafe will provide guidance to help organisations understand the changes and their responsibilities under the regulations.

Who does it affect?

Organisations and individuals that manufacture, use, handle, store or supply hazardous substances. Some of the changes relate to specific substances, substance classes or quantities. The regulations also impose duties on those who design, manufacture, construct, import, supply, install, or use equipment, such as tanks and cylinders used to contain hazardous substances, and their fittings.

What do I have to do now?

The regulations come into force in December. Until then the rules under HSNO continue to apply. Most of these will continue under the new regulations, so now is a good time to review your hazardous substances management and make sure you are complying with your duty to protect people from harm in your workplace.

If your organisation is currently inspecting and testing gas cylinders, you will need to apply to become a test station from September. Periodic testers will be replaced by test stations under the new regulations. WorkSafe will contact the people affected by this change directly with information on what they need to do.

Where can I find out what’s changing?

General information on the new regulations is available on the WorkSafe website. WorkSafe will be providing more specific information and guidance over the coming months on the website, and through newsletters and articles.

What does it mean for the rules relating to the environment?

Environmental controls for hazardous substances will remain under the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

Media contact details

For more information you can contact our Media Team using our media request form. Alternatively, you can:

Phone: 021 823 007 or

Email: media@worksafe.govt.nz