Does your workplace have proper management in place for hazardous substances? Many people don't even realise that their workplace uses hazardous substances, until they discover that the phrase encompasses any product or chemical that has explosive, flammable, oxidising, toxic or corrosive properties.

According to WorkSafe, around one in three New Zealand workplaces use, manufacture, handle or store hazardous substances. This includes factories, farmers and growers, as well as printers, collision repairers, hairdressers and retailers. Hazardous substances are in commonly used products such as fuels and LPG, solvents, cleaning solutions and agrichemicals.

From 1 December, the former rules for managing hazardous substances in the workplace are being replaced by the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017, and responsibility for administering those rules will shift from the Environmental Protection Authority to WorkSafe New Zealand. Failure to comply with the new regulations could lead to a prosecution with serious consequences.

The new regulations are fairly similar to the old ones, so if you have been complying with the current hazardous substances law, then you may not need to make significant changes. Nevertheless, this is a good time for all businesses to review their processes, and ensure that they keep people safe around hazardous substances.

What do you need to do?

The first step is to check whether there are any hazardous substances in your workplace. The presence of any hazardous substance means that the requirements will need to be met. These are:


A workplace must keep an inventory of all hazardous substances used, handled, manufactured or stored, including any hazardous waste.

For each substance in the inventory, the following information must be recorded:

  • the product or chemical name, and the UN number, if available;
  • the maximum amount likely to be at the workplace;
  • its location (e.g. indoor storage cabinet, dangerous goods store); and
  • any specific storage and segregation requirements (e.g. substances it is incompatible with or whether it has to be held in a closed container).

Safety data sheets

A safety data sheet (SDS) will be required for every hazardous substance supplied to a workplace. The SDS (or a condensed version of its key information, such as a product safety card) needs to be accessible to everyone who could be exposed to the substance in your workplace, including both your workers, and any emergency services workers. It should also be recorded in the inventory.

Labelling and packaging

All hazardous substances in your workplace needs to be properly packaged, whether they are in their original container, or have been moved into different packaging or containers.

All packaging and containers must be:

  • in sound condition;
  • able to safely contain the substance at the temperature range at which the container will be used as long as the substance is packaged; and
  • made of a material compatible with and not likely to be affected by the substance.

The containers or other type of packaging must also be clearly labelled, regardless of whether they are in their original containers or whether the substances have been moved. This includes containers of hazardous substances you produce in your workplace.

The label needs to be in English and include:

  • the product or chemical name of the substance; and
  • hazard pictograms and hazard statements reflecting its hazardous properties.


Some substances and locations have new signage requirements. You need to maintain your signs and keep them up to date. Signs must be clean, in good repair and not covered or obscured.

Emergency response plans

The emergency response plan must:

  • cover any emergency that could happen in your workplace;
  • list any training needed by people with responsibilities in an emergency; and
  • provide an inventory and a site plan.

Fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers must be clearly visible and readily accessible, replacing the previous requirement of being no more than 30 metres away from the substance. This means anyone who needs a fire extinguisher can see and reach one easily in an emergency. Fire extinguishers must also have a rating of at least 30B.

Training for workers

If a workplace has hazardous substances, the workers must have the information and training that they need to work with those substances.

Workers must be provided with information about what work involving hazardous substances is happening within their work area, the location and availability of information about the risks of the hazardous substances in their workplace (including the location of the SDS), and how to safely handle and store the hazardous substances.

Workers must be trained in:

  • the physicochemical and health hazards of the substances they use (i.e. whether the substances are explosive, flammable, oxidising, corrosive or toxic);
  • procedures for safely using, handling, manufacturing, storing or disposing of these substances;
  • safe use of the equipment, including personal protective equipment that they need to manage the substances; and
  • what to do in an emergency caused by, or affecting the hazardous substances they work with, or that are present in their work area.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.