Changes aim to cut workplace death toll

New legislation, aimed at reducing New Zealand's workplace injury and death toll is expected to come into force in April next year. Yvonne O'Hara looks at the impact on the agrichemical industry.

The New Zealand agrichemical industry will face significant changes under The Health and Safety Reform Bill which has been introduced to Parliament.

The Bill will create the new Health and Safety at Work Act, replacing the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. The Bill is part of ''Working Safer: a blueprint for health and safety at work''.

Working Safer is aimed at reducing New Zealand's workplace injury and death toll by 25% by 2020.

In a recent speech to the Agcarm conference in July, Minister for the Environment Amy Adams said Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) surveys showed there had been significant non-compliance issues with the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act.

She said up to 900 people died every year from occupational diseases, including many thought to be from exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace.

Graeme Peters, chief executive of industry body Agcarm, said as part of the new legislation the Government was looking at removing the approved handler regime, which was put in place 10 years ago, and replacing it with an Australian model.

He said the Government was also considering introducing a compulsory product stewardship scheme for agrichemicals, animal health products and their containers.

There will also be some ''tidying up'' of the EPA's roles and the HSNO Act. These include giving the EPA new powers to become an enforcement agency under HSNO to ensure manufacturers and importers meet packaging and labelling requirements.

The approved handler regime was brought in to ensure people who bought agrichemicals had sufficient training to handle them and oversee others.''

At present if a person wants to purchase some hazardous chemicals from a local distributor, or use some sprays in a wide, dispersive manner, they have to show their certificate.''

''The Government has said they don't think this is working and it wishes to adopt an Australian model.''

He said one of the reasons for the change was to ensure the person in charge of a business or operation was ultimately the person responsible for ensuring that business met health and safety and training requirements - managing the health and safety risks rather than the hazards.

Under the new legislation, that person would have to ensure their employees were trained in handling, use, storage, disposal and transport of agrichemicals.

Those who sell the agrichemicals also needed to know the person buying them was trained properly.

He said the approved handler regime was a ''one-size fits all'' approach, where in reality, in some situations the approved handler certification training was not fit for purpose and set to a ''default level''.

As an example, a spraying contractor needed a higher level of training than a ''squirter'' - a dairy worker who sprayed less hazardous chemicals and used a knapsack occasionally.

Following ''vigorous'' discussion, the Agcarm board decided to support the change.

Mr Peters said if the approved handler regime was replaced with training to suit specific requirements, then it was likely courses tailored for the different levels of agrichemical use would be introduced by Growsafe and other providers.

''I do not think there may be any extra costs for training to meet the requirements.

''But then what price do you pay for keeping people safe?''

Another change is likely to be the introduction of compulsory schemes for product stewardship so that all agrichemical and animal health product manufacturing companies take responsibility for their plastic containers and unused product.

About 60 manufacturing companies belonged to the voluntary Agrecovery programme, which recycled containers and imposed a levy on its members, which was recoverable from the consumer.

Companies that did not belong to the scheme did not pay the levy and did not need to pass it on to agrichemical buyers.

''By making it compulsory that all agrichemical companies be part of a scheme like Agrecovery, it will level the playing field.

''We would like local and central government to really push farmers and growers to recycle and recover their plastics.''

Agcarm is also supporting a nationwide campaign to raise the awareness of the importance of all agrichemical users using the necessary safety equipment.