Submissions to the 2012 Review of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme - Safe Work Australia

The Discussion Paper: Review of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS)–June 2012 was released on 1 June 2012. Submissions were received betweeen 1 June and 27 July 2012. The comments received from this consultation process will be used to inform the government of stakeholder views

Page last updated: 19 September 2012

PDF printable version of Safe Work Australia submission (PDF 208 KB)

NICNAS Review
Department of Health and Ageing (MDP 71)
GPO Box 9848
CANBERRA ACT 2601

Dear Sir/Madam

Response to Discussion Paper: Review of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS)

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the discussion paper on the review of NICNAS.

Safe Work Australia is an Australian Government statutory agency with the primary responsibility of improving work health and safety arrangements across Australia. A key role of Safe Work Australia is the development of model work health and safety (WHS) legislation for adoption as Commonwealth, state and territory legislation in accordance with the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety (IGA).

The model WHS legislation provides the basis for a consistent regulatory framework for the management of hazardous chemicals in workplaces. It places duties on manufacturers and importers of hazardous chemicals as well as persons conducting a business or undertaking involved in the supply, storage, handling, use or disposal of hazardous chemicals. The legislation also provides for restricting or prohibiting use of certain hazardous chemicals.

Safe Work Australia has an interest in the current review of NICNAS due to the linkages between NICNAS activities and workplace health and safety. For example, NICNAS assessments may lead to recommendations for legislative changes to be implemented under WHS laws or provide recommendations to be implemented by duty holders to comply with WHS legislation. These include:
  • hazard classifications
  • workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants (WES)
  • health monitoring, and
  • prohibition or restrictions of workplace hazardous chemicals.
Safe Work Australia is supportive of any reforms resulting in improvements to health and safety outcomes in Australian workplaces that handle and use chemicals. Comments on the options identified in the discussion paper are at Attachment A.

Yours faithfully

Rex Hoy
Chief Executive Officer
Safe Work Australia
July 2012
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Safe Work Australia
Martin Merrett
Director, Technical Review and Assessment Section
02 6240 3759

GPO Box 641
Canberra ACT 2601

Summary

Safe Work Australia supports the aims of this reform activity as a number of the reform options are expected to assist in improving health and safety outcomes in Australian workplaces. Any changes to NICNAS powers and functions should take account of and complement existing legislation, for example the harmonised work health and safety (WHS) legislation where it has been implemented in the Commonwealth, states and territories.

Risk management decisions made by NICNAS that are intended for adoption under other legislation, for example recommendations to prohibit or restrict a hazardous chemical under the harmonised WHS legislation, should include an assessment of costs and benefits to support the recommendation for regulatory change in accordance with Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) guidelines.

Part 4—The regulatory framework for industrial chemicals (options A1 – A3)

  • Do you think that an industrial chemicals risk assessment and risk management manual would assist? If not, why not?
  • If so, what are the specific matters that could usefully be addressed in the manual?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the options?

A1

Safe Work Australia supports option A1 to develop a risk assessment and management manual to provide clarity to stakeholders on the basis of risk management decisions taken by NICNAS. The manual should clearly articulate the scope and limitations of risk management decisions taken and clearly identify that other legislation can and will apply in certain situations. References to WHS legislation, Codes of Practice and guidance materials should be included where appropriate.

A2

Establishment of a cross-portfolio group to consider chemical policy is supported in principle and should be considered in a whole of government context taking account of the role of existing groups like the Standing Committee on Chemicals. The effectiveness of this group, particularly if lead by one of the chemical policy agencies is likely to be limited in its ability to influence policy changes in other portfolios. Any cross portfolio group established will need to have clearly defined roles and expected outcomes.Top of page

A3

This option is supported to clarify roles and responsibilities of the various chemicals policy and regulatory agencies following any changes to NICNAS powers and responsibilities as a result of this review.

Part 5—New industrial chemicals (options B1-B6)

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the options for addressing the problems and objectives identified?
  • If weaknesses are identified in relation to any of the options, are there other options that also meet the objectives?
  • If these options were to be adopted, what are some of the implementation issues that would require consideration?
  • What would be the likely impact on your organisation, if this approach were adopted?
  • If NICNAS were able to refuse both an assessment certificate (Option B4) or listing on AICS (Option B5), under what circumstances would this be appropriate?

B4

Risk management decisions made by NICNAS relating to Safe Work Australia’s activities have included recommendations for prohibition or restriction that are intended for implementation in jurisdictional WHS legislation through national instruments maintained by Safe Work Australia and its predecessors. This has been an inefficient and slow process due to the need for Safe Work Australia to undertake a regulation impact assessment (RIS) to meet COAG and OBPR requirements. Some NICNAS assessment reports have recommended establishment of or amendment to a workplace exposure standard, changes to health monitoring requirements or prohibition or restriction of use of a workplace chemical. These have all required the Agency to prepare a RIS.

Amendments to work health and safety legislative instruments through Safe Work Australia’s processes involve tripartite decision making arrangements these changes are not necessarily a formality.

Amending NICNAS powers to provide the ability to impose conditions on use like prohibition or restriction of a chemical is supported. Implementation of this option would be expected to provide a more responsive regulatory system able to address worker, public and environmental safety concerns more quickly than present. It would also provide a simple and consistent mechanism for implementing risk management options across the work health and safety, public health and environment sectors with a single regulatory instrument.

B5

Safe Work Australia’s preference would be to have the conditions of use of chemicals subject to a certificate of assessment and included in the Australian Inventory of Industrial Chemicals (AICS) rather that not including the chemical on AICS. This will allow transparency for other chemical regulators as to what chemicals are and are not permitted to the used in Australia. It would also appear to be more consistent with the proposal to refuse to list those chemicals on AICS where an assessment indicates that the risks from the chemical cannot be managed to an appropriate level.

Part 6—Existing industrial chemicals (options C1-C6)

  • Do these options address the problems identified in relation to existing chemicals? If not, why not?
  • What are the implementation implications?
  • If these options were (or were not) to be adopted, how would this impact on your organisation?
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C3 and C5

The proposal to remove chemicals no longer used in Australia from AICS is supported. We see this as an important option as it would provide a more realistic picture of chemical usage in Australia. It also will assist in review activities currently being progressed by Safe Work Australia. Increasing the information gathering powers of NICNAS to achieve this and to maintain AICS is also supported.

Part 8—Other reforms—release of information and confidential commercial information (Options E1-E2)

  • How would the release of information to other relevant government agencies impact introducers?
  • What are some of the implementation issues that would require consideration?
  • What would be the impact of these options?
  • Are there any other ways in which the identified problems can be addressed?

E1 and E2

The release of information on chemical hazards and risks to other agencies is important to ensure the effectiveness of the overall chemicals regulatory framework in Australia and is supported. It would allow other agencies to take appropriate regulatory action where necessary and address potential public, worker or environmental safety concerns in a more responsive manner.

Any confidentiality provisions in the NICNAS system must be consistent with confidentiality arrangements under other legislation. For example, under WHS legislation manufacturers and importers of hazardous chemicals have a duty to disclose information on a chemical’s identity, proportions and hazards on labels and safety data sheets, in order for that chemical to be stored, handled, used or disposed of safely in workplaces.Top of page

A full list of all 2012 submissions can be viewed at June 2012 submissions to the review of NICNAS.