Even the most safety conscious organisation can have an emergency involving hazardous substances. As well as observing the rules around managing your hazardous substances, you, your workers, and emergency service workers need to know what to do - and who is responsible for what - in an emergency.

What is a hazardous substances emergency?

Here are just some examples of the kinds of emergencies that can occur:

  • a worker being poisoned by ingesting or inhaling a toxic substance
  • a worker being burnt by a corrosive substance
  • a fire caused by flammable or oxidising substances, or
  • hazardous substances leaking or spilling from their containers, injuring people and contaminating land and waterways.

How do I prepare for an emergency?

Preparing for an emergency depends on the types and amounts of hazardous products you use and store. Mandatory actions include:

  • Training your workers about what to do in an emergency. They also need to know where the safety and first aid equipment is stored and how to use it.
  • Making sure your inventory of hazardous substances is accessible to any emergency service provider, both during an emergency and after the workplace has been evacuated.
  • Labelling all hazardous products and ensuring the label is readable and stays on the container. If a hazardous product is transferred from one container into another, the new container must also be labelled.
  • Having a safety data sheet (SDS) for each hazardous product at your workplace; and storing SDSs in a place where workers and emergency services can easily find them. Safety data sheets provide information on the hazardous substances, including on first aid and what to do in the event of an emergency.
  • Be prepared to deal with a spill or leak of hazardous substances. Spill kits for small spills can be bought from safety equipment suppliers, or make a kit to suit your needs. The equipment needed in your kit will depend on what hazardous substances you have and the amount that could be spilled. See the Practical guide to working safely with hazardous substances(external link) for more information on preparing for spills.

Your Practical Guide includes a useful emergency plan checklist. The hazardous substances calculator(external link) will help you work out whether you need fire extinguishers (and the correct type), signs, secondary containment or an emergency response plan.

What is an emergency response plan?

To minimise the effects of an emergency, workplaces that deal with certain substances above certain thresholds must:

  • have a written emergency response plan (ERP).
  • be tested at least every 12 months (or within three months if there is a change to your plan).

You can use the hazardous substances calculator(external link) to work out if you require an ERP.

Your ERP must:

  • address all ‘reasonably foreseeable’ emergencies
  • specify how to obtain information about the hazardous properties of the substances that may be involved
  • state any special training needed to deal with an emergency involving each substance
  • include the inventory of hazardous substances present at the workplace
  • include a site plan showing all the hazardous substances locations in the workplace
  • specify the purpose and location of each item of equipment or facility to be used to manage the emergency
  • identify the people involved in the emergency response, the skills they need and the actions they are expected to take

It must also include a description of what you will do to:

  • call emergency services
  • warn people at the workplace and nearby about the emergency
  • advise people how they can protect themselves
  • help or treat anyone injured in the emergency
  • manage the emergency to restrict its effects to the initial area, reduce its severity and if possible, eliminate it
  • re-establish the control measures put in place, including the use of protective equipment and agents (for example, neutralisers or absorbents)

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) can review your plan (at your request or at FENZ’s initiative) to ensure it is achievable.

If you have class 6.1A, 6.1B, 6.1C, 8.2A, or 8.2B substances you also need to ensure you have equipment and materials for dealing with leaks and spills and/or chemicals for restricting or decontaminating spills and absorbent material readily available.

Your ERP must specify the type and location of fire extinguishers and any other fire-fighting equipment. Fire extinguishers must be visible and accessible, and have a rating of at least 30B.

Find out more

See our quick guide:

Safety data sheets in the workplace - quick guide (PDF 88 KB)

For additional guidance: