AGRICULTURAL CHEMICAL AND PESTICIDE USE
The Hon. E. M. OBEID: My question without notice is directed to the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations. Chemicals and pesticides pose a concern for rural workers and other end users. Can the Minister inform the House what steps the Government has taken to address this threat to workers’ health?
The Hon. J. W. SHAW: I can report to the House that developments have occurred in relation to the move towards the safer use of pesticides and agricultural chemicals. The Government proposes to release for public comment at the end of this month two new codes of practice dealing with the safe use of pesticides and agricultural chemicals. Both codes have been drafted by WorkCover following industry consultation. The first is a code of practice for the safe use and storage of chemicals in agricultural workplaces. This code is designed for use by farmers, pastoralists, horticulturists, orchardists and foresters. The second is a code of practice for the safe use of pesticides that should be adopted by contractors, council workers, groundspersons and greenkeepers. The codes are guides to assist those users to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety (Hazardous Substances) Regulation, the Dangerous Goods Regulation and the Pesticides Act. The drafts will be released at the end of this month for public comment. Interested parties will have until 29 August to make their submissions.
Previously, farmers and agricultural workers were covered by general legislation relating to pesticides. Information was not specifically tailored to their needs as the end users of agricultural chemicals. Farmers, in particular, considered some requirements of the hazardous substances regulation to impose an unnecessary burden. Record keeping, risk assessment and health surveillance were seen to be impractical. Farmers had difficulty in obtaining material safety data sheets - known as MSDS - through rural retailers. In drafting these new codes WorkCover established a working party that included representatives from the Department of Health, the Australian Workers Union, the Department of Agriculture and the New South Wales Farmers Federation. The codes are a one-stop shop for advice, reducing to one document the amount of paperwork that rural workers, for example, need to be fully informed on this important safety issue. All agricultural chemicals are covered in terms of both the health risks - an issue that is covered under the hazardous substances regulation - and the storage risks - an issue that is covered under the dangerous goods regulation.
The codes take a systematic risk-assessment approach, rather than being a prescriptive manual. Chapters in the codes cover legal responsibilities of various parties, labels and the safety data sheets, consultation, training and record keeping. Example record forms follow each chapter. The approach is to carry out risk assessment. This establishes a basic system within which farmers and others can safely work with chemicals and pesticides. In most circumstances the risk assessment will be a straightforward process. Where possible, the codes encourage people to use existing documentation. As I have said, the codes will be released for public comment at the end of this month. They have been devised after extensive consultation, and I encourage anyone with an interest in chemical and pesticide use to provide comment.