WorkSafe New Zealand’s health and safety assessment inspectors see many work-related health issues on workplace visits. Between January and June this year, they discussed 3,157 work-related health issues with businesses, up 15% on the previous six months.

The most common health issues discussed related to agrichemicals, noise, asbestos and body stress (see Figs 1 and 2).

Agrichemicals were the most commonly raised health risk and the main focus of work-related health assessments in the agriculture sector. Of the 900 assessments, only 10 (1.1%) resulted in an enforcement notice.

Noise was raised as an issue across all sectors and was the second most common health risk discussed. Of the 546 assessments, 39 (7%) resulted in an enforcement notice which were mainly improvement notices.

Asbestos continues to be an issue in construction, particularly where old buildings are being demolished or renovated such as in the earthquake areas of Canterbury and Wellington. It was the third most raised health risk, with 92 of the 432 asbestos assessments (21%) resulting in an enforcement notice.

Body stress was the fourth most common work-related health issue. It was raised in all sectors, particularly with manufacturing businesses. Although body stress was discussed in 393 assessments, no enforcement notices were issued.

As part of the Clean Air Programme, inspectors continue to focus on respiratory hazards - silica, solvents, welding fumes, wood dust and carbon monoxide.

Fig 1: Assessments with work-related health focus January - June 2017
Fig 1: Assessments with work-related health focus January - June 2017
Fig 2: Work-related health assessments by sector January - June 2017
Fig 2: Work-related health assessments by sector January - June 2017

Tips to minimise health risks

1. Training and information

Ensure workers are trained in the safe handling and management of agrichemicals and other hazardous substances. Make sure safety data sheets (SDSs) and other relevant health and safety information are readily available for any person using chemicals or responsible for them. SDSs are available from the importer or manufacturer.

2. Maintain an inventory

You are required to maintain an inventory of the hazardous substances in your workplace under the new Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017. Read our quick guide on inventory requirements for hazardous substances

Depending on chemical type and quantity, other actions may be required, such as designating a certified handler, obtaining a location compliance certificate or providing signage. For more information, see the Good Practice Guidelines on Working safely with chemicals and fuels on farms and the Hazardous Substances Toolbox(external link).

3. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and monitoring

Ensure workers handling chemicals have appropriate and effective personal protective equipment (PPE) and understand how to use and maintain it. This includes properly fitted (i.e. fit-tested) respiratory protective equipment, and effective personal protective clothing that is cleaned and maintained appropriately. Some agrichemicals, especially organophosphates, can be absorbed through the skin, so workers handling these substances must be protected from skin and eye contact. Information on PPE requirements should be provided in SDSs and individual agrichemicals product labels.

You also should frequently monitor workers’ health and exposure levels so far as is reasonably practicable (note exposure levels of some agrichemicals are not able to be monitored).

Go to the hazardous substances guidance web page to find all our documents on hazardous substances.

1. Measure noise levels

Firstly, find out if you have a noise problem. It’s important to know what the noise levels are, where the noise comes from, and how long workers are exposed to it. This information will help you work out the necessary risk controls.

2. Eliminate or minimise noise levels

Noise can be eliminated from the workplace by replacing noisy machinery with quieter machinery – provided the noise is below risk levels.

If elimination is not reasonably practicable, there are ways to minimise the hazard such as to:

  • replace noisy machinery with quieter machinery even if noise levels are not below risk levels
  • relocate noisy machinery to less populated areas
  • enclose noisy components
  • reduce vibration by lining components with rubber
  • run noisy machinery when fewer workers are around
  • seek specialist advice.

3. Hearing protection and health monitoring

If a health risk remains, supply workers with hearing protection ensuring they know why and how to use it and how to fit it properly. The hearing protection selected must be based on noise levels that have been measured appropriately.

Businesses should also provide annual worker hearing tests and training on the use and maintenance of the hearing protection.

1. Have a plan

Any business where asbestos is, or is likely to be from time to time, must develop an asbestos management plan by 4 April 2018. The asbestos management plan is a record of what asbestos you have, what condition it is in, how often you check it, and what you will do if something goes wrong. The plan should be provided to all contractors carrying out minor work so their work can be planned appropriately.

2. Training

Businesses must make sure all workers doing asbestos work have received appropriate training and instruction to do the job safely, so they do not put themselves or others at risk. Workers conducting licensed asbestos removal must attend relevant training by 4 April 2018.

Businesses must provide the necessary supervision to protect workers from health and safety risks. For workers conducting licensed asbestos removal, ensure their work is supervised by someone with the required qualifications and experience. Find out more about asbestos training requirements here.

3.  Have the right licence for the job

Friable asbestos (crumby and powdery) removal can only be conducted by a person in charge of a business or undertaking (PCBU) with a Class A asbestos removal licence.

For non-friable (not easily crumbled) asbestos removal, a Class B asbestos removal licence is required if more than 10m2 needs removing. This can also be done by a Class A PCBU.

A licence is not required for removing up to 10m2 non-friable asbestos, but regardless of how much asbestos needs removing, PCBUs must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that airborne asbestos exposure is eliminated or minimised. Read about asbestos licensing requirements.

In an asbestos environment it is essential that workers’ PPE minimises asbestos fibres entering their breathing zone. Our fact sheet on what PPE to use with asbestos has more information.

Body stress can occur from any activity requiring a worker to manually handle an object. There are several ways a worker can experience body stress:

  • lifting and lowering tasks
  • pushing and pulling tasks
  • carrying and throwing tasks
  • tasks requiring repetitive actions.

1. Eliminate risks

First, you must try to eliminate the risk of body stress in your workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. Involve your workers as you consider how to eliminate or minimise those risks. Some questions you can ask are:

  • What tasks require manual handling?
  • Why do these tasks require manual handling?
  • Can these tasks be eliminated?
    • How can the task be done another way?

2. Minimise risks

Where you are not reasonably able to eliminate a body stress risk, you need to consider what you can do to minimise it. Some examples are:

  • Provide appropriate mechanical aids and equipment, ensuring they are used properly and maintained according to manufacturer specifications
  • Ensure building layout and design limits the need to push, pull or carry equipment or loads (e.g. good path design, floor surfaces allow pallets to be moved directly to storage areas)
  • Position shelving and racking in storage areas at accessible heights
  • Ensure service counters and food preparation surfaces are between hip and waist height
  • Order stock in smaller containers that are easier to store and lift
  • Ensure workers are not exposed to repetitive work for long periods or work that requires a significant amount of high force
    • In healthcare, eliminate manual lifting of patients, except in life-threatening situations. Provide appropriate mechanical aids and equipment (e.g. overhead tracking, hoists, mobile hoists, wheeled equipment, slide sheets) and ensure they are used properly and maintained according to manufacturer specifications.

3. Train workers

Train your workers on safe handling methods (e.g. work is done between shoulder and mid-thigh height and with the elbows close to the body) and how to safely use any mechanical aids and equipment.

Read more about body stress on our web page