(To read Part 1, scroll down to May 12.)
Risk assessment requirements
By Mary Wood and Anne Hunt
Where a substantial amount of hazardous substances are stored, the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 state that it is the responsibility of the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), to ensure that a full risk assessment is carried out by Fire & Emergency NZ.
Outcomes from these risk assessments include ensuring that
- crucial signage is erected around the storage areas
- safe drainage facilities are available to prevent contamination of waterways.
In theory, these formalised procedures are overseen by the local District Health Board’s Chief Medical Officer, who, in the event of a fire or other emergency such as an earthquake, assess the risks to nearby residents and workers from any toxic smoke and fumes and if necessary, instigate the pre-arranged evacuation plan.
Overseas practice not followed
Overseas, these evacuation plans are widely publicised so that the public are fully aware of what is required of them.
Regular rehearsals also ensure the Emergency Services and healthcare professionals know what procedures are in place and ways they could be improved.
But that doesn’t happen in New Zealand.
Common sense should prevail
Because of the gaps in scientific evidence about the risks from 1080 poison – in terms of
- dust exposure over the long-term
- consuming sub-lethal doses through food or water and chemical reaction
- harm from inhalation of toxic fumes when alight
it is common sense that the workers’ risks of exposure to poisons be limited and that when they are exposed to risks, their health is regularly monitored.
This instruction is clearly stated in the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).
But WorksafeNZ claim that this monitoring is voluntary and the responsibility of the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).
Little wonder then, that despite the numerous serious concerns highlighted in the ERMA Reassessment Report (2007), none of the gaps in the science have been filled over the 60+ years of 1080 poison use.
Inevitably, fires in pesticide poison storage sites do occur, like the one on 10th October 2006 when 18 people were hospitalised after a hangar apparently storing Brodifacoum caught fire in Murupara, near Rotorua.
January fire in Levin
More recently, on the 19th January 2018 a fire broke out just after 1am at a Horizon Council depot, within a residential area in Levin.
The building was storing various hazardous substances, including 1080 poison and other pesticides.
But it appears from the Incident Report (released under OIA) that even 1.5 hours after the firefighters arrived on site, Horizons Regional Council claimed that they had ‘no records relating to that building’.
Later, when it was established that it was indeed Horizon’s depot, for 4 hours council workers were unable to contact the emergency key-holder.
Meanwhile we know of at least one resident, a mother, who stood outside her home in the early hours and wondered where the smoke was coming from.
The level of incompetence from the council is difficult to comprehend and undoubtedly put volunteer firefighters and residents’ lives at risk.
(The final article will be published tomorrow.)