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Marion Hobbs Hazardous Substances Speech

7 November 2000 Hon Marion Hobbs Speech Notes

NZ Institute Of Hazardous Substances Officers Annual Training Seminar, Rutherford Hotel, Nelson
10.30am November 7

Good morning and thank you for this opportunity to open your annual conference.

The theme of this event is “HSNO – Lets make it work.” That's my aim too – and it's taking learning, listening, arguing. I am very pleased to see that this organisation, formerly the Institute of Dangerous Goods Inspectors, is taking such a positive attitude to getting the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act ‘up and running’ for hazardous substances. We need your experience, knowledge, co-operation to get this Act working.

This law adopts the latest international approaches and causes us all to stretch our thinking and practices. It is naïve to suppose that we can foresee all the things that happen when we commence new law such as this. What is important is that we can all work together and deal with the issues as they arise. This requires the patience to see what happens in reality. We all need a positive ‘can do’ attitude, to act quickly when gaps/contradictions become apparent.

I also see that you have titled this session ‘Introducing HSNO.’ I should think by now that the HSNO Act needs little introduction to anyone in this room. However I do think it is worth reinforcing a few basics about the Act.

I get asked and ask myself a number of questions about this Act.

Some of these questions have already been answered, but if you are like me you'll drive officials mad by coming back for further clarification. The answers to some other questions will depend on the transition, which is unsettling as the answers will be worked out over time. Other questions have raised issues in my mind and I am still seeking answers – so keep asking the hard questions, and please be assured that we will get all these questions answered. Let me repeat that, we together will get these questions answered. This will take time and we will all need to be involved in forming the answers as we ‘bed in’ and learn about making the HSNO Act work.

The first thing to say is the HSNO Act is fundamentally different from the laws it replaces, for example the Dangerous Goods Act, the Explosives Act and the Toxic Substances Act. It has much more in common with the Resource Management Act, the Building Act and the Health & Safety in Employment Act. The basic difference is effects-based rather than one size fits all. As a result over the long term it will not be business as usual for you or your organisations. There will be opportunities for you and your skills and knowledge will be needed but in new and different ways.
The first important difference is that the HSNO Act is about hazardous substances. This means that in addition to substances that burn or explode it's about things which are poisonous to people and most significantly dangerous to the environment. This last is a new area and is very much the focus of groups opposed to the use or unsafe use of agrichemicals. HSNO will require new groups to work with each other. For example, I seriously recommend that your Institute collaborate with those also who already work with hazardous substances in other capacities. The most obvious example of these people is of course those who work in the health sector, such as health protection officers.

Along with this larger subject area is an equally important difference. The HSNO Act is about the controls placed by the ERMA on hazardous substances. It is not about a set of regulations to be checked by inspectors or other officers. Let's examine that difference. Controls set standards of performance for say the petrol container – it must survive X degrees of heat/ Xg of force etc. There will be different ways of meeting that performance standard. So when monitoring takes place it will be more complex because there are more choices to meet the performance standard. When the Act is up and running and substances have been transferred from the present rules to HSNO, what will become important are those controls placed on the specific substances by the ERMA.

This will include for example, controls that deal with a substance’s flammability and its ecotoxicity or potential to damage the environment. Accordingly I suggest to you that the important thing for this group to understand and have access to will be those specific sets of controls, as they become available through the process of transferring substances. The ERMA has already been hard at work estasblishing that this information is available as readily as possible.

The second difference I wish to highlight is that the HSNO Act is designed to work in conjunction with other pieces of law. It was not designed in isolation from other laws. For example, most of you will know much better than I that the present Dangerous Goods laws are in some measure about controlling the use of land as well as controlling substances. This will change with the HSNO Act and the land use controls will become much more sharply part of the Resource Management Act world. eg Explosives next to school – now only dealt with under the RMA.

For those of you in local authorities, that means working with and understanding what planners do and helping them understand about hazardous substances. To help with this, the Ministry for the Environment is already developing material and planning workshops, scheduled for early next year.

These links will also happen in other areas. For example, while the HSNO Act will supply the basic requirements for packaging hazardous substances, there can and must be special conditions for, for instance, certain types of transport. It makes no sense to impose the special conditions required for air transport on every hazardous substance. So specialists from previously separate areas will be working together.
Again, to help with this process, the Ministry for the Environment has funded the development of basic training modules for enforcement officers and is working with the Department of Labour and Ministry of Health to provide this basic training. I strongly suggest you take advantage of the opportunity this presents.

The third difference is that this Act, as with the other Acts I’ve already mentioned, is most definitely not about telling people exactly how to do everything. It is about setting standards and expecting people to live up to those standards. This means some fundamental differences in the way the Government expects things to happen. Admittedly this is pretty scary – especially when you consider the stupid things people do. But underlying this is a belief in problem-solving and creativity.

I believe the community should be able to develop, and can develop its own solutions. Let me give you one small example. This evening in Wellington I am speaking at the launch of the Chinese language version of the Code of Practice for the Management of Agrichemicals. This document contains the most currently accepted means – a code of best practice - for the safe management of agricultural chemicals. When the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act comes into effect, I hope that this document, already a NZ Standard, will be able to become an approved Code of Practice under that Act and so provide an important means of meeting the requirements of the Act.

It is important to emphasise that a community of people, including growers who use the substances, technical experts and chemical suppliers developed this document. It was partly funded by the Government through the Sustainable Management Fund, something that we will continue to do with other documents.

The New Zealand Chinese community has taken this a step further and made this accessible to that group of (largely) market gardeners. I want to see more of these sorts of examples. After all complying with the law happens best when people willingly and understandingly comply. You as a body have a major role in making that understanding happen.

The road to getting the pieces of the regulation necessary to commence the HSNO Act for hazardous substances has taken longer than any of us would have liked. These are complex regulations with lawyers drafting what the technical people need. All this is likely to mean that we are looking at around the beginning of the second quarter next year to get the HSNO Act up and running.

While I don’t like this delay, it is giving us time to do some more working through of the issues so the Act hits the ground running.

When the HSNO Act commences there will be no sudden changes. The transitional parts of the Act retain the existing rules and only when I am satisfied that the systems are in place and are properly worked out, will the Government sign off on the transfer of hazardous substances. Even then this cannot happen all at once – it will take at least 3 years to complete according to the best estimates of the people doing the transfer work.

This means that many of you will go on doing some of the same things for a while.

However it does not mean there is room to just cruise.

Right now the Occupational Safety Service and local authorities (the two agencies that most people in this room work with, if not for) are working through the cooperative arrangements to make sure enforcement really works. This is part of what I mentioned at the beginning of this speech – getting the HSNO Act bedded in and in shape to operate properly. This needs your cooperation and your positive input. And to be blunt it is the part I am most nervous about – division of responsibility/ new ways of working.

I will be working with my colleague the Minister of Labour to make sure that the result of this work are properly considered by the Government and, if necessary, the funding is available to make the HSNO system, particularly the enforcement and compliance machinery, work properly. However, Margaret and I alone will not be able to make this act work. We need your experience, enthusiasm and energy.

This is a major undertaking with many different set-up exercises. For example, as we get the regulations finalised, the ERMA are already working to set up the administrative details for a test certifier regime. Test certification, which I think of as a more sophisticated version of a warrant of fitness for a car, will be a key part of the making sure people comply with HSNO. I expect that working in this area will be an option that some of you will wish to pursue in the future. However, the test certification part of HSNO will not be required until there are transfers of existing hazardous substances, so, while we do need to keep this aspect moving, we do have time to do things in an orderly fashion.

I would like to take a moment to mention some parts of the Government’s programme on waste management, which I see as both important and closely related to the good management of hazardous substances.

Consistent with developing a national strategy for waste minimisation and the HSNO regulations for hazardous substances, we are working to develop policies on hazardous waste management. We need to reduce the amount of hazardous waste we produce in the first place and when we do produce it, we must manage it responsibly. To do this we need good information, a comprehensive legislative framework, appropriate management controls and incentives.

The current focus of the Hazardous Waste Management Programme is to develop a consistent national definition of hazardous waste. The draft definition of hazardous waste is now “on line” and available for use and for feedback. An issues and options paper discussing landfill waste acceptance criteria will be released for comment early next year. This paper will include a recommendation for the adoption of a nationally consistent approach to landfill waste acceptance criteria.

In the meantime, I have told the Ministry for the Environment to take a proactive role in ensuring that the Government’s commitment that all substandard landfills should be upgraded or closed by 2010 actually happens. The Ministry has, for example, recently objected to the proposal by Invercargill City Council to continue using its old landfill for a further 10 years. I understand this issue has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Ministry and Invercargill City and I am pleased with the cooperative approach adopted in this case. The Ministry will, on my behalf, become involved in other cases, if this is justified.

Upgrading or replacing ageing landfills will be a challenge for many communities. I am sure that you are all fully aware of the debates going on about appropriate sites for the new modern landfills that many councils are seeking to establish. I am also sure that the members of this Institute can may a positive and knowledgeable contribution to these debates.

Proposals for the better recovery of used oil and for stronger environmental controls on its discharge will be detailed in a discussion paper to be released later this month. A Code of Practice for the handling and management of used oil is also all but complete, and I would like to see it available at the same time. Again I am aware that members of this body have contributed to the work undertaken to date, and I hope that you will remain actively involved.

At the beginning of my remarks I said that I was pleased at the positive can do approach being taken by the Institute. I also said that that the reality is that all of the agencies and interest groups involved are going to need to work together to deal with the issues around commencing the HSNO Act as they arise.

Keeping this in mind, I’d like to look at some general expectations about compliance with the HSNO Act and with the other Acts it relates to.

I’d like you to think about these expectations over the course of your meeting. In particular I’d like you to think about them in the light of the new legislation being different from the old. And about my expectations that the community can and should be able to access and understand the law and develop their own solutions.

 I do expect that we will at least maintain existing levels of community health and safety both through the transition part of the HSNO Act and into the new regime. But, I do not expect that achieving this will be done in the same way that it has been in the past.

 I do expect that there will be adequate compliance in the new areas addressed by the HSNO Act – particularly the environmental effects of hazardous substances.

 I do expect that compliance occurs in cost effective ways for everyone, and that means more people understanding what is needed and being able and willing to do it.

 And I do expect that prosecutions will happen where that is justifiable.

I have already said several times that the HSNO Act, in common with other Acts already in place, demands a new approach to achieving these things. The people in this room have much of the knowledge to work to develop this new approach. You will need to work with others and be prepared to be creative and see the world in different and new ways.

A lot of thought has obviously gone into both the programme you have before you, and selecting the people who will be presenting it. It does seem to me that it was crafted with many of the new aspects and interactions that I have been talking about in mind, and it gives you an opportunity to develop your own thinking as part of this new world. I recommend that you use it as a stepping to stone to being part of that world.

Thank you again…. I wish you well in your deliberations.

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