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Address To New Zealand Chemical Industry

7 August 2008 Speech

Address To New Zealand Chemical Industry Council Conference 2008

Speech delivered to the New Zealand Chemical Industry Council by ACC Minister Maryan Street, on behalf of the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Environment Trevor Mallard


Tena koutou katoa. Good morning.

Thank you very much for the invitation to open your conference this year. I’m delighted to be here today and to be able to present the PRINCE (Premises Inspection and Certification) workplace health and safety awards.

It’s vital that we all recognise the importance of workplace excellence in health, safety and the environment. These PRINCE awards recognise your commitment and hard work in these areas and I congratulate you all.

The chemical industry, and your Council, is leading the way in showing a true commitment to economic, social and environmental sustainability.

The PRINCE and Responsible Care accreditation programmes clearly demonstrate that commitment. Building a positive safety culture takes just this sort of encouragement. We need to provide leadership, as well as quality systems and policies in this area and, of course, we need to get workers involved.
The workplaces being celebrated today more than meet their health, safety and environmental obligations. They exceed them. They clearly realise that good workplace health and safety comes from a positive safety culture.
Safety culture is simply about the way things are done. It’s about shared practices.

International research strongly suggests that better safety cultures mean businesses have fewer injuries and accidents, meaning better productivity, better job satisfaction and better corporate reputations.

Good health and safety obviously makes good business sense, as well as being just good common sense.

Today we celebrate your achievements. I hope they will be an example and an inspiration to other New Zealand businesses. We need more businesses working this way.

This is where the Workplace Health and Safety Strategy comes in. Its vision is healthy people in safe and productive workplaces.
This strategy aims to reduce New Zealand’s work toll significantly. There are about 1100 deaths a year from workplace-related disease and injury. That toll is unacceptable.

Hazardous substances in the workplace contribute to that toll. Many of these deaths are related to the toxic nature of many substances, as well as to their flammability. As you well know, both government and industry must pay full attention to the challenges of working with hazardous substances in workplaces.

There is also a strategy particularly aimed at managing the risks and harms attributable to hazardous substances. The Hazardous Substances Compliance and Enforcement Strategy seeks better compliance through education and promoting the benefits of better health and safety practices for the management of hazardous substances in the workplace.

Since it was approved by Cabinet in December 2006, progress has included better guidance material for industry, continuation of an 0800 compliance information line, and identification of priority areas for enforcement. There is also ongoing work to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the scores of agencies involved in law enforcement in this area.

Test certifiers are critical to effective hazardous substances management. For this reason, the Ministry for the Environment is reviewing the test certifier regime established under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.
The review will look at the effectiveness of the regime in managing the risks of hazardous substances and the protection to people, communities and the environment. I understand that the Chemical Industry Council will be closely involved in the review.

The potentially tragic consequences of working with dangerous substances were clearly shown in the recent fire at the Hamilton Icepak Coolstore, where one firefighter was killed and seven others injured.

Following that case, the Labour Department has issued information about the need for safe design of such plants and control systems, adequate maintenance, and safe practices when using hydrocarbon refrigerants.

The Department of Labour and ACC have also put significant resources into considering the challenges of airborne substances. As well as research into occupational asthma and exposure to carcinogens in the workplace, there has been work done by ACC on respiratory diseases and the implementation of a clean air initiative by the Labour Department.

There are many ways in which government agencies – such as the Department of Labour, the Ministry for the Environment, ACC and the Environmental Risk Management Authority – work closely with the chemical industry.
The Chemical Industry Council provides these agencies with a conduit to industry and, in many cases, you beat the drum for us.

Your Council makes it easier for government agencies to get to the tables of both those interested in improving health and safety in the workplace and those who need some encouragement and support to do so.

You also help departmental staff to engage more effectively with those using hazardous substances by providing helpful contacts. And you support frontline staff with a range of resources that help in identifying and managing hazards.
I know that your Council actively supports the training of the Department of Labour’s inspectorate by contributing resources and expertise. Such training can also include staff from agencies such as ERMA and the Ministry of Health. In fact, your Council is in the process of signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Labour’s Workplace group to provide ongoing support.

I am pleased that the Council is also currently working with the Department of Labour and ERMA to provide a road show for small and medium-sized enterprises. This is a significant initiative, which could reach an audience of up to 10,000 in more than 20 centres across the country. This will benefit those businesses that may use hazardous substances by explaining how to manage chemicals in the workplace safely and how to achieve workplace health and safety compliance responsibilities with minimum fuss and expense.

The Department of Labour and ERMA are also working closely with the Chemical Industry Council and industry to review the Approved Code of Practice for the Management of Substances Hazardous to Health, to ensure that it reflects best practice.

As well as supporting better services on eco-toxins, the Department of Labour will continue to work with partner agencies to develop further the safe management of hazardous substances.

I see that the New Zealand Institute of Hazardous Substances Management has also formed a partnership with the Council to improve skills and professional performance in this area.

In this year’s budget, the government gave another $1.1 million towards assessing workplace risks and developing effective strategies to guard against environmental damage.

Another government agency which is relevant to your industry is ACC, of which I am the minister.

I am pleased to see that ACC, as well as the Department of Labour, Ministry for the Environment, the Police and other government agencies, have been working with you and industry to make improvements in this area of working with hazardous substances.

We want to continue the close relationship we have and I want to assure you that this government is always open to hearing your views and advice.

I am aware that businesses working in the chemical industry, like all businesses, do not want to face unnecessary compliance costs and neither does the government want to impose them.

ACC is currently investigating whether or not it is appropriate to accept industry audits as equivalent to the audits currently conducted by ACC. This investigation is being undertaken in a wider context than just the Workplace Management Scheme criteria and includes the Workplace Safety Discounts programme for small employer and self employed businesses. This work is in the early stages and an internal report is expected by 30 April 2009.
Ensuring that illnesses and injuries sustained in the workplace, including those which may result from exposure to certain chemicals, are covered by ACC is another important aspect of the Corporation’s job.

Cover for common work-related diseases and infections can usually be found through Schedule 2 of the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act. This lists specific occupational diseases under the assumption, based on medical evidence, that the probable cause of the disease is exposure at work.
In January, 24 diseases were added to the 17 already on the Schedule. These included conditions such as occupational allegic contact dermatitis and occupational asthma caused by recognised sensitising agents.

If someone has a work-related disease that is not on Schedule 2, they can also gain cover through section 30 of the Act. At the end of June this year, Parliament passed an amendment to the Act, which introduces changes to the cover for work-related gradual process, disease, and infection, to ensure that people harmed by their work receive greater access to cover and more clarity around what is available.

The changes create an added incentive to industries to ensure appropriate health and safety measures are in place in the workplace.

They also reflect the fact that as medical knowledge improves, so does the ability to identify a stronger occupational link with some diseases. This is indicative of the fact that our task is an on-going one, reflecting the reality that as our industrial knowledge and capability evolves, so does the nature of our workplaces and our concomittant responsibilities and obligations.

The PRINCE accreditation scheme and the recognition of superior performance by employers through today’s awards is another important initiative to help ensure we succeed in our joint goal of creating a safe and healthly New Zealand.
I look forward to continuing to work with you all in future. It now gives me great pleasure to present the PRINCE and Responsible Care awards.

ENDS

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