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Safeguard Magazine

From the horse’s mouth

REX ALEXANDER shares a test certifier’s perspective of enforcement and compliance around hazardous substances.

I was asked to present at a hazardous substance conference in Auckland recently. The brief was to give a test certifier’s perspective of enforcement and compliance from the horse’s mouth. Leaving aside enforcement for the purposes of this article (and horses) I would like to expand on what we have achieved in terms of compliance with HSNO legislation on the ground.

The basic premise is we all want to go home safely. We all want to live to enjoy retirement without chemical damage to our bodies. We all want to enjoy our families without the spectre of genetic damage. We all want to come to work in the confident hope that it hasn’t gone up in smoke. And we want to enjoy our environment without experiencing the effects of chemical pollution.

That is what compliance actually means in practice. It means achieving the purpose of the act and following the principles of the act. It is really not all that difficult – most of it is common sense – but this is very complex legislation and you cannot reduce something below a level of acceptable effectiveness. HSNO can only be dumbed down so far – the controls are necessary. There remain a number of inconsistencies and the legislation needs to continue to evolve, but it is working and it is proving to be practical.

However there are cases of non-compliance that test certifiers and enforcement officers continue to see out there. Some examples are graphically depicted in this article, but I don’t want to dwell on the negatives. I’d rather highlight the positives – where we have come from to where we are now.

The physical differences and changed mindsets test certifiers are witnessing in most industries are quite dramatic, with the larger, more dynamic companies starting to recognise and take advantage of the flexibility that HSNO offers by being performance-based, and more especially risk-based legislation.

They are thinking: how can we maximise our competitive advantage, reduce our compliance and raw material costs, increase the safety for our workforce, the well-being of the community and the safety of the environment? And in order to do that how can we make maximum use of the knowledge our test certifier has of this legislation?

Smaller companies are perhaps not as aware, either through insufficient knowledge of the legislation, not enough time to research the potential advantages, or through not having the funds to achieve compliance. However most small companies that use hazardous substances belong to industry organisations, or at least have access to the information from their chemical suppliers as well as their test certifiers. Through them, they should now be taking advantage of the potential benefits.

One aspect that needs further evolution is the development and use of Codes of Practice (CoPs). Writing one doesn’t need to be that hard. A HSNO CoP can be one or two pages written by a company to cover maybe one aspect of their business – basically saying this how the company will manage HSNO for a particular key process. It may be based on a standard or a New Zealand or foreign best practice guide to comply and be consistent with the HSNO controls.

HSNO should be a holistic and targeted approach to hazardous substances control. A company, for example, can extend the HSNO CoP concept and tailor it to its own purposes, while remaining inclusive of the HSE Act’s requirements and risk reduction hierarchy. It could then add any site specific land use planning resource consent conditions, and address the fire evacuation needs. HSNO cannot and definitely should not be treated in isolation.

We need a rational consideration of the risk presented by hazardous substances to a company and its environs across all levels of the company. That should be presented in concepts and explanations readily understood by anyone who could be adversely affected, including neighbours. This integration is when it all starts to make sense – this is the rationale as to why you should do it, not just do it because the regulations say so. And from that approach in the end we move closer to self regulation, informed, safe decisions and minimal bureaucracy.

REX ALEXANDER is a Dunedin-based test certifier and technical director of Envirocom:

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