A new system for managing hazardous substances safely comes into force on Monday, the Minister for the Environment,
Marian Hobbs, said today.
"The 'hazardous substances' part of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996 is a major advance in
protecting people’s health and the environment from the harmful effects of many substances that are essential to our
daily lives," Marian Hobbs said.
"The new regime will ensure effective risk-management of hazardous substances in line with international best practice.
It will cover all hazardous substances from the time they are imported or manufactured through to disposal of residues.
"One central agency, the Environmental Risk Management Authority, will now make decisions on which new hazardous
substances can be introduced to New Zealand and will set controls to ensure that they are used safely. A key feature of
the new system is that the public may have input into the process of assessing hazardous substances and setting
"At first those who have been managing hazardous substances in accordance with the current laws will notice little
change. It will be business as usual until ERMA New Zealand works through the process of transferring many thousands of
existing substances to the new system. Changes in the way existing substances are controlled will take effect with this
transfer," the Minister said.
Further information can be found on the website http://www.hsno.govt.nz
or contact ERMA New Zealand or Ministry for the Environment offices.
What is a hazardous substance?
Under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, a hazardous substance is any substance that exceeds the level
defined in regulations of any of the following properties:
- an explosive nature (including both substances and articles and pyrotechnics such as fireworks)
- ability to oxidise (that is, to accelerate a fire)
- acute or chronic toxicity
- ecotoxicity, with or without bioaccumulation (that is, it can kill living things either directly or by building up in
[not a property - suggest omitting as it applies only to one very specialised set of flammables]
Some examples of common hazardous substances include solvents such as dry-cleaning fluid and paint thinners, petrol,
printing inks and dyes, paints, adhesives, cleaners and many resins. The HSNO Act also controls compressed gas
containers, whether or not the gas itself is hazardous.
What is the purpose of the HSNO Act?
The purpose of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 is: “to protect the environment, and the health and
safety of people and communities, by preventing or managing the adverse effects of hazardous substances and new
organisms”. The Act focuses on:
- requiring consistent assessment of all hazardous substances and new organisms prior to importation, development or
manufacture and release
- using a consistent process for assessment
- enabling public input to the assessment process
- requiring that decisions are made on the basis of the environmental, health and safety effects of hazardous substances
and new organisms
- applying suitable controls for hazardous substances at every point of their life cycle and for new organisms during
research or field trials
- ensuring that decisions take into account agreements that New Zealand has with other countries.
Why do we need the HSNO Act?
Hazardous substances are essential parts of our daily lives. But if not managed carefully they can harm people or our
environment. People can suffer ill-health or even death, our environment can be damaged, and there are costs to the
community such as emergency response to chemical or oil spills, cleaning up pollution, and loss of business through
damaged crops or products.
Until now, management and control of hazardous substances in New Zealand has been inconsistent and piecemeal. It has
focused on single dangerous characteristics, such as the capacity to poison people, without recognising that the same
substance might also cause fires or explode. For example, methylated spirits, petrol and many solvent based paints are
both toxic and flammable. This system became increasingly inadequate to deal with the complexity of hazardous substances
How does the HSNO Act differ from previous laws?
The main differences from previous laws are:
- The approval process for hazardous substances and new organisms under the HSNO Act allows for public input into the
- Hazardous substances will generally have hazard-based controls placed on them. These controls will allow people to use
any method they want to achieve the required standards.
- Penalties for non-compliance are higher than under previous legislation.
- Decisions on applications to introduce new organisms, or to introduce and impose controls on hazardous substances are
made by one central agency, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA).
What are the penalties under the HSNO Act?
Penalties for breaches of the HSNO Act include fines of up to $500,000, plus $50,000 a day for a continuing offences, or
imprisonment for up to three months. The Court can also order the offender, at their own cost, to fix problems caused by
non-compliance or to pay the cost of this being done. Company directors, employers and managers, even if they do not
handle or use the substances themselves, can be prosecuted if they have not taken reasonable steps to ensure that their
staff comply with the HSNO controls.
How do the HSNO Act and regulations operate?
[need the controls idea up front] The HSNO Act enables the ERMA to impose controls on hazardous substance either as they
are assessed and approved or transferred. These controls will be drawn from regulations specifying the performance that
must be met in controlling hazardous substances, not how this should be done. For example, they specify the weight a
package should withstand without breaking, not the detailed design of the package. The performance-based approach is
designed to provide certainty about what is required while allowing the flexibility to adopt new technologies.
When it is assessed by ERMA, each hazardous substance is assigned a classification that reflects the type and degree of
its hazard. The regulations then provide the controls that apply as a result of that classification, although ERMA can
vary these controls in some circumstances. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the degree of hazard, the stricter the
controls. If a substance is hazardous in more than one way, for example, it is both toxic and flammable, the controls
will be linked to both hazardous properties.
When will substances already in use transfer to the HSNO regime?
Over the next few years ERMA New Zealand will be working to transfer thousands of hazardous substances already legally
present in New Zealand to the HSNO regime. The timetable for this transfer is:
- Explosives are due to be transferred by July 2002
- Dangerous Goods by April 2003
- Toxic Substances by April 2003
- Pesticides by June 2003
What costs will business incur?
All hazardous substances that are already legally present in New Zealand will be transferred by ERMA New Zealand to the
new system. The HSNO Act requires that this must be done in line with the present controls imposed on those substances.
This does not require an application under the Act and there is no charge, although where unclear information was
provided in the past, industry may be asked to assist with clarifying this.
But from 2 July 2001, anyone who wants to import or manufacture a new hazardous substance will need to seek approval
from ERMA and provide information to support their application.
The HSNO Act will impose some costs additional to those under the present system. This is because the previous laws were
not as comprehensive, or not complied with or did not recover costs at all. The HSNO Act reflects the expectations of
the community today that substances will not be used in a way that harms the environment or public health. This is
similar to legislation now in place or being developed in other parts of the world.
The application process will be open to public input, which is an improvement on the previous regime but does involve
some extra costs. However, the Government has agreed to support the costs of public participation by providing a subsidy
for public notification and hearings.
Industry should be able to minimise the costs by making effective use of the provisions of the Act. For example, an
application can be made for a group of substances with the same effects, which can be considered together.
In addition, a number of substances will be exempted from the HSNO Act. These include substances used in research and
development, because they are small scale uses under contained conditions.
Finally, a rapid assessment process has been introduced for applications which are similar to substances already
approved or for substances which are in the lowest category of hazard classification. This will reduce compliance costs,
because these applications will be simpler and cheaper to process and do not require public notification.
Who will enforce the HSNO Act?
Enforcement officers can issue compliance orders [no infringement regulations!], and can prosecute offenders when an
order is not complied with or when a control on a hazardous substance is no complied with. The enforcement agencies are:
- Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) - issues relating to any workplace
- Ministry of Health - issues related to protecting public health
- Maritime Safety Authority - issues on board any ship
- Civil Aviation Authority - issues with aircraft and airports
- Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) - powers to deal with issues on road and rail
- Police - deal with vehicles, and rail
- City and district councils (territorial local authorities) - cover public places, private dwellings and when enforcing
Resource Management Act provisions and also cover dangerous goods during the transitional period
- Ministry of Commerce - deals with gas distribution system and appliances
- Allied enforcement agencies are:
- Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry - powers under the Biosecurity Act
- Customs Department - deals with border control
The New Zealand Fire Service has powers under the HSNO Act to deal with emergencies, and the New Zealand Defence Force
provides for dealing with bomb disposal and deteriorated explosives.
ERMA New Zealand is not an enforcement agency but has the overall role of monitoring enforcement performance and
conducting inquiries under the Act.