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Improving the handling of hazardous substances

10 October 2008

Workshops aim to improve handling of hazardous substances

The Department of Labour is joining forces with the Environmental Risk Management Authority, ACC and the New Zealand Chemical Industry Council in an effort to improve safety and health in the handling of hazardous substances.

It is organising a series of free workshops around the country to inform employers and workers of the steps they can take to ensure the safety of workplaces and everyone who works in them.

The workshops kick off in Hamilton on Tuesday (14 October). Nineteen will be held over the next seven weeks in cities from Whangarei to Invercargill.

Department of Labour Head of Occupational Health and Safety Craig Armitage says the Department decided to go ahead with the workshops after its inspectors found many employers were unaware of their legal obligations to safely manage, store, handle and dispose of chemicals and other hazardous substances. Employees were similarly unaware of safe working practices.

Mr Armitage says chemicals are used in about 150,000 workplaces across the country. They are also essential elements in many products that enhance our society. But they need to be handled safely. The consequences of not doing so can be fatal.

"When things go wrong they can go seriously wrong. New Zealand Fire Service figures show on average there are 330 fires each year caused by gases, chemicals or hazardous substances. These incidents can threaten jobs and communities."

Mr Armitage says the National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee estimates that between 700 and 1000 workers die from occupational disease each year.

Most of these deaths are caused by chemical or hazardous substance exposure in the workplace. Many resulted from conditions – such as cancers or respiratory ailments - that developed many years later. By then, illnesses are often well advanced and treatment options are limited.

Mr Armitage says much of this exposure can be prevented through proper hazard identification, safe storage and handling and the use of personal protective equipment.

"These workshops aim to inform employers and workers what steps they can take to ensure chemicals and other hazardous substances are used and stored safely in the workplace.

"Workplace health and safety is not expensive. It is about having the right attitude and a determination to do things properly. The consequences of not doing it right can be much more expensive in the long term – for all concerned."

Mr Armitage says places were still available at most workshops. Details of where and when they are being held can be found at

Anyone wanting to attend should e-mail their name, address and contact details to

More information on safe storage and handling of hazardous substances is available at


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