NZ Institute of Hazardous Substances Management Annual Training seminar

  • Marian Hobbs

Good morning and thank you for this opportunity to once again open your annual conference. The theme of my address to you at last year¡¦s conference was ¡§HSNO ¡V Let¡¦s make it work¡¨. This year I will be coming at the topic from a slightly different angle, ¡§HSNO ¡V Let¡¦s make it work better¡¨.

At this time last year, the main issues about HSNO were related to getting it off the ground. Now that HSNO is airborne and rapidly gaining altitude, it is time to make sure that the pilot, cabin crew, and aircraft controllers are aware of their individual responsibilities and are talking to each other. This will be the key message of my address today ¡V let¡¦s work together and improve our communication with each other to ensure the success of this new and dynamic legislation.

I understand that you will be ¡§testing the waters¡¨ and getting your hands dirty in tomorrow¡¦s exercise in the Wellington Harbour. I also hear that this is the hottest ticket in town at the moment and that Peter Jackson will be watching closely for ideas for his next movie. Seriously, I think that this exercise is a great way to get a feel for the issues that arise in an emergency situation. Also, I'll take my hat off to you if you succeed in keeping 25 school children lying still throughout the whole process ¡V no simple task, indeed!

The reports I receive from my officials at the Ministry for the Environment and ERMA, and the conversations I have with people involved in the HSNO Act all give me the same message ¡V the people who need to be talking are talking, and the HSNO regime is functioning well. I¡¦m not just talking about making sure fireworks are safely stored, or that drums aren¡¦t leaking toxic chemicals into groundwater. I¡¦m also talking about:

* Cooperation ¡V between central government, including ERMA, and other enforcement agencies to ensuring an effective enforcement regime.
* Communication ¡V making sure that the necessary information is getting to the right people. The nature of the enforcement regime is such that delegations are common, and communication is critical to making them work
* Capacity building ¡V learning and putting into practice new concepts and a new way of doing things

Your contributions to developing the enforcement regime have been significant, and represent a major element of the positive results so far. I strongly believe that the enforcement regime will ¡¥sink or swim¡¦ depending on the involvement and commitment of enforcement agencies over the coming years. I am encouraged to hear from many of you that this commitment stems from the strong desire to maintain standards in the level of protection of people and the environment. This level of protection has been maintained from old regime ¡V let¡¦s now improve it by continuing to build capacity and knowledge in this new legislation.

It¡¦s hard to believe that the hazardous substances part of the Act commenced less than 6 months ago. In that time, much has happened and continues to happen. For instance:

* Applications for new hazardous substances are arriving on ERMA¡¦s doorstep. As such, ERMA is developing protocols and systems to ensure robust, consistent decision-making that is transparent and accessible.
* Existing substances are being transferred from previous legislation and being assigned controls ¡V starting with explosives in 2002. This transfer will be accomplished by way of regulation or order in council and there will be opportunity for you to comment on them.
* To help the small to medium sized businesses out there, ERMA is developing a suite of information resources to assist in complying with HSNO and understanding the transfer process from the old to the new legislation.
* Training for HSNO advisers and enforcement officers has been done and publications made available for others to run training courses.
* A core of test certifiers is being established to be ready for the first set of transfers (i.e. explosives in 2002)
* Regulations have been completed - with more to come for bulk storage, tank wagons, and compressed gases by the end of 2002
* Heaps of information available on the internet, or through ERMA and MfE as well as through published guidance documents ¡V
* User Guide to making an application for a Hazardous Substance Approval
* Guide to HSNO for Enforcement Agencies
* Getting Started: A Guide to Hazardous Substances under HSNO
* Codes of practice are being put in place ¡V these provide practical guidance on compliance and best practice of hazardous substance management. In order to save the time and expense of writing new codes of practice, existing codes and guides are being looked at to see if they can be improved and used. Existing codes also have the advantage of being known and familiar. New codes will be developed in cooperation with industry and industry associations.

So, it really is all happening.

Like any piece of legislation, it takes time for the new regime to ¡§bed in¡¨ and for all the gaps and uncertainties to be addressed and resolved. So, I will take a few minutes to talk about some of the gaps that I would like to see adressed.

First, the capacity of enforcement officers to be knowledgeable and proficient in all the HSNO hazards relevant to their work areas is crucial. For most of you, the requirements of the old regime put you at the head of the class for understanding most of these hazards. However, now there are some new hazards that need your attention and willingness to learn.

For example, ecotoxicology is a relatively new field requiring new ways of identification and enforcement. Ecotoxic effects are often the hardest to pinpoint and assess, but they can have significant long-term effects on eco-systems and human health. An example of an ecotoxic substance is mercury, which is not flammable or explosive but has significant impacts on eco-systems and human health if not monitored and managed properly. It is important that there are enforcement officers around who can identify these ecotoxic substances and advise businesses on how to manage them in an environmentally sound manner.

To get you up to speed with these new disciplines, information and assistance will be available from ERMA and central government enforcement agencies. More important than knowledge of technical publications is a willingness on your part to learn from your colleagues and peers. I urge you to cooperate with experts from other agencies, such as regional council staff and health protection officers, who have expertise and experience in managing the risks of toxic and ecotoxic substances.

Another area that will require your commitment is in the area of emergency management. The establishment of effective Hazardous Substance Technical Liaison Committees will ensure that emergencies and incidents are responded to promptly and in a coordinated manner. Once again, communication and cooperation among the various enforcement agencies is key to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clear.

Another uncertainty related to HSNO enforcement is, ¡§Who pays?¡¨ I recognise the need for certainty and equity related to funding. However, the prime responsibility lies with the individual enforcement agencies to ensure necessary funding to carry out their responsibilities. As such, it is inappropriate for additional funds to be sought through my ministerial portolio and Vote: Environment. It is appropriate that my officials and I work with enforcement agencies to identify problems in the enforcement regime and act on those issues as they arise. In the meantime, I urge all enforcement agencies to maintain adequate capacity to accomplish their responsibilities under the Act.

The HSNO Act is one of the most significant pieces of health and environmental legislation to be passed since the Resource Management Act in 1991. Like any legislation, the HSNO Act does not operate in a vacuum and it has overlaps and links with other Acts. Facilities using hazardous substances are now subject to requirements from up to 6 pieces of legislation (i.e. RMA, HSNO, Health Act, Health and Safety in Employment Act, Building Act, Local Government Act). The HSNO Act links with all of these, therefore gaining knowledge about the links is important to ensure compliance. In order to help you through this complicated legal framework, my officials at the Ministry for the Environment are developing training courses on the significant interface between HSNO and the Resource Management Act. These courses will be run in early 2002.

Other Ministry work areas of interest and significance to you include:
„X National Waste Minimisation and Management Strategy ¡V a comprehensive programme for all wastes that shifts from management to reduction of waste streams by regulation, economic incentives, information and education
„X Dioxin Action Plan ¡V the 1st National Environmental Standard to be developed under the RMA for discharges of dioxin to air
„X Pesticide Risk Reduction Strategy + Agricultural Trespass Ministerial Advisory Committee (ATMAC) ¡V initiatives to reduce the impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment

So, as I said before, it is all happening. Now that the HSNO Act is fully operational, there are lots of new concepts and ideas to take on board. I encourage you to talk to each other, to ERMA, and to MfE to continue the success of the enforcement regime in the years to come.

I would like to quote from the latest edition of your newsletter, Flashpoint, ¡§Against all expectations, the Act and regulations are working as predicted¡¨. The HSNO Act is working, now it¡¦s up to you to make it work better by building your capacity and knowledge of this new legislation. I hope this training seminar provides an opportunity to learn from each other¡¦s experiences and build the relationships that