Adams: Agcarm Annual Conference
24 JULY, 2014
Agcarm Annual Conference
Thank you Mark [Christie, President of Agcarm] for your introduction.
I firstly want to acknowledge the significant contribution members of Agcarm make to New Zealand.
As a farmer and a Minister, I know that the productivity of our land is critical to the wealth of our country and the ability to meet the aspirations of New Zealanders.
The products your members provide are a vital link in a supply chain that starts with our fertile land and ends with satisfied customers around the world.
In fact, the contribution of the plant and animal science industries has changed New Zealand.
The productivity of our land and our animals was far beyond the dreams of farmers only a few decades ago. Much of that is due to the application of technologies developed and supplied by your members.
But maintaining consumers’ trust and confidence in a highly-competitive food market is a never-ending task.
They require constant reassurance that we are using chemicals and pharmaceuticals responsibly, and maintaining food safety.
We’ve also seen the risks to a whole sector when consumer confidence is shaken, as with the recent scares around milk.
But modern consumers are not just concerned about what is in their food; they are increasingly concerned about how it is produced.
We frequently see it expressed around animal welfare but there are also wider stewardship issues that farmers in New Zealand and overseas face questions over, such as employment standards and worker safety, and the environmental impacts of production.
Companies wanting to do the right thing are also concerned about the risks to their reputations from those up and down their supply chains. This is gradually driving behaviour change.
And the “she’ll be right” attitude just doesn’t cut it in the modern world when it comes to managing these areas.
Today, I’m going to cover some of the practical ways the Government is working to improve the way we manage these issues, and to support your industry and the wider economy.
High profile disasters such as the Tamahere cool store explosion and the Pike River tragedy remind us of why there needs to be a focus on workplace safety.
But we must also build awareness that workers can face a far more insidious threat from daily exposure to hazardous substances, and that we need to protect their health throughout their lifetimes.
Between 600 and 900 people die every year from occupational disease, many thought to be from exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace.
The Government is taking this seriously. The Health and Safety Reform Bill currently before Parliament represents the most significant reform in this area for 20 years.
At the moment, businesses working with hazardous substances must comply with two very different and overlapping pieces of legislation—the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, and the Health and Safety in Employment Act.
They have quite different approaches and focus.
The Bill changes that, superseding the HSE Act with a new Health and Safety at Work Act.
These reforms will reduce complexity for the majority of businesses using hazardous substances, and will also improve the usability of the HSNO Act.
In the past HSNO has sometimes been considered a poor cousin to health and safety legislation.
But the reforms clearly signal that the safe management of hazardous substances is a vital part of a safe workplace.
The regulation of hazardous substances in the workplace will primarily become the responsibility of WorkSafe.
From 1 September 2014 WorkSafe will start undertaking functions on behalf of the EPA under the HSNO Act until the new legislation is in place.
WorkSafe will administer the test certification regime and issue approvals for licences, compliance plans, and other related matters important to the workplace.
The EPA will still remain responsible for significant aspects of hazardous substances regulation under HSNO.
For example, it will continue to receive applications and make recommendations on whether or not to approve a hazardous substance for manufacture or import into New Zealand.
The EPA will also place controls or rules on the substance to mitigate the risks in non-work situations, and it will set controls for things like labelling, packaging and safety information.
The key difference is that WorkSafe decides on the controls needed to protect workers.
Better integration of HSNO-related requirements into the workplace health and safety system will provide users with greater certainty of the requirements placed on them and clarity on how to meet these requirements.
This will give business and workers a better understanding of how to manage hazardous substances as part of their total workplace health and safety management, saving them time and cost.
Enforcement is also getting a shakeup in the new regime, with WorkSafe taking sole responsibility for enforcing compliance in the workplace.
This means one enforcement officer will be able to address all aspects of workplace health and safety.
The EPA will also become an enforcement agency under HSNO for the first time.
Of relevance to Agcarm, the EPA will gain new powers to ensure manufacturers and importers meet their HSNO obligations, such as having the right approvals and meeting requirements for labelling, packaging and safety data sheets.
A new mechanism – called EPA notices – is also proposed as part of changes to improve the workability and reduce the complexity of the HSNO Act.
These notices are a tertiary-level legal instrument - the same level that group standards are now.
The EPA will be able to move and update many of the duplicated, outdated or alternative requirements that are currently in regulations, transfer notices, individual approvals, and group standards, into one place.
The EPA proposes to have five notices in place when the legislation comes into effect in 2015. Four of these will be classification notices that update the framework for hazardous substances.
These notices will cover the hazard classification system to align with the latest version of the globally harmonised system of classification and labelling of chemicals, and to set new requirements for labelling, packaging, and safety data sheets.
The fifth notice will address enforcement officer qualifications, which have been a long-standing problem for several enforcement agencies.
A discussion document on the first five notices is scheduled to be released later this year for public comment.
The EPA will also be working to simplify and consolidate the requirements under various HSNO approvals.
Currently there are several avenues for approving a hazardous substance. Each of these approval pathways may have slightly different requirements.
For example, mineral turpentine was originally approved under a transfer notice, but turpentine is also covered under the solvents group standard where controls are expressed a bit differently.
With the passing of the Bill, the EPA will begin working through the already approved substances to identify which ones have multiple approvals.
This will help improve health and safety and environmental outcomes, as only the most up-to-date controls in line with international best practice will be kept in place.
Despite the improvements these reforms will make, changing the regulatory environment is not enough.
We need to address the “she’ll be right” attitude that causes New Zealanders to gamble with their health on a daily basis and fail to take basic, yet inexpensive precautions.
EPA surveys indicate significant non-compliance with the HSNO Act, and also suggest that significant harm is likely to be occurring.
To help address this issue, I challenged industry to come up with solutions to increase the number of front line workers wearing safety gear.
I’m pleased to say that your industry has been a key supporter of initiatives like this aimed at improving health and safety in the agricultural sector.
You have worked with other industry associations, the EPA and WorkSafe to raise awareness about the importance of wearing the right safety gear when using agrichemicals.
The campaign addresses head-on the “she’ll be right” attitude with a compelling message about what can happen if you’re wrong.
The campaign material gets to the heart of farm life – our families - and highlights why it is so important to use hazardous substances correctly.
Posters and flyers with practical tips about safety gear will drive that message home. More than 150,000 flyers will be distributed over the course of the campaign.
We have over 260 stores taking part, including PGG Wrightson, Farmlands, RD1, ATS and nine independent stores.
Campaign materials are also being distributed by HortNZ, Federated Farmers, Rural Contractors and by WorkSafe through their Safer Farms programme.
These public-private partnerships demonstrate the power of working together, and I would like to thank Agcarm for the role you are playing in this campaign.
That role extends into another part of my Environment portfolio – waste.
Farms are a major source of waste. Up to 15 per cent of waste deposited to land is from farms.
An Environment Canterbury survey in 2013 showed the average farm produced 23.7 tonnes of non-natural waste every year. The three most common disposal methods are burning, burial or storage.
We have to think hard about whether these disposal practices are the best long term solution for our waste. All three pose significant risks of harm when it comes to agrichemicals.
The risks are to the people handling them, to families and neighbours exposed to them, to the environment, and to future generations who inherit the land.
The Government is working on waste initiatives with the agricultural community. Agrichemicals and farm plastics are a major focus, so it was pleasing to see a recent collection in Canterbury collected more than 11 tonnes of waste agrichemicals.
Product stewardship is one approach to the problem – this involves industry and producers taking responsibility for waste.
The Government’s focus to date has been on voluntary schemes. We have accredited two significant schemes aimed at reducing agricultural waste - Agrecovery and Plasback.
Agcarm is a strong supporter of Agrecovery, and its chair is your own [chief executive] Graeme Peters.
It has collected more than 475 tonnes of plastic and 42 tonnes of chemicals since accreditation, reducing these wastes by about 25 per cent.
But neither scheme has had the success it might have, with both hampered by free riders and non-participation.
As I mentioned earlier, attention on environmental stewardship issues in the farm sector is growing. Our communities are concerned, as are your customers.
In the European market, a strong driver for farmer participation in product stewardship schemes is the requirements of major purchasers.
In New Zealand, this driver is strongly felt in the horticulture sector, which has a high participation rate in Agrecovery compared to other sectors. The trend seems clear.
The Government is now looking at other options to voluntary schemes.
We recently consulted on a discussion document proposing intervention to improve the management of agrichemicals and farm plastics.
I want to thank you for the support Agrecovery and Agcarm members have given to the consultation process.
One option being considered is declaring agrichemicals and their containers a priority product, meaning a product stewardship scheme would have to be developed for them.
No decisions have been made yet. I welcome your ongoing advice and willingness to work with my officials to identify cost-effective solutions around end-of-life product and product packaging that benefits the environment.
We are entering a time of significant change in the management of health and safety in the workplace.
Community and customer expectations are changing.
The focus on how we manage hazardous substances is changing too. That is an important issue for you and your customers.
Preventing long term harm is more of a focus and ‘she’ll be right’ attitudes are not sustainable.
This applies to how we manage the impact of waste from farming activities.
We value your ongoing expert input into our policy making processes on these important issues. I look forward to reviewing your feedback on the recent priority products consultation.
The relationship and engagement the Government has with Agcarm is important. We recognise your contribution to the success of New Zealand agriculture, which is a foundation for the success of New Zealand as a whole.
I wish you all the best for the rest of the rest of the conference.