Asbestos – the new frontier

Shelley Major, Managing Director of Major Consulting Group Ltd, simplifies and explains the implications of the new Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 on builders’ businesses.

New Zealand embraced the use of asbestos for decades. It was included in so many products that it can be found on the roof, in the ceiling, on the walls and floors, and around pipes – in fact, pretty well everywhere in residential and commercial buildings alike.

That is why the new Asbestos regulations, which came into force on 4 April this year, state that asbestos must be assumed to be in every building built prior to 2000.

We now know that all asbestos is bad. It causes cancers. WorkSafe NZ estimates 170 people die each year from asbestos-related diseases. Builders, electricians and plumbers make up two-thirds of this number. It is known that family members have also succumbed as a result of shaking out the overalls before putting them in the washing machine.

The government has decided that playing Russian roulette is not appropriate. The regulations forbid PCBUs to direct, carry out, or allow any work that involves asbestos or asbestos-contaminated material (ACM) unless they comply with the regulations.

Builders do work involving asbestos and ACM. The issue is whether they’re likely to disturb the asbestos while doing their job. If the answer is yes, then they must comply with the regulations.

So what are the regulations that you need to comply with?

Remember, the principle is that no-one can be exposed to asbestos. So to begin with, if you’re going to be demolishing or refurbishing any part of a plant or structure in a residential or commercial building built prior to 2000, you must make sure the area that will be disturbed has been tested and any asbestos found has been removed.

However, there may be instances where the testing was inconclusive: either the test couldn’t get into the area that you will be disturbing, or the test itself was inconclusive. In these cases, you must assume asbestos is present.

If your business involves the risk of exposing your workers to asbestos, you must:

  • Ensure all your workers are trained to recognise and control asbestos and ACM
  • Keep those training records for five years after your worker has left your employment
  • Ensure they understand the health risks of working with asbestos and ACM
  • Monitor their health.

When your workers are on a job where you have to assume asbestos is present, you must:

  • Ensure they are wearing appropriate PPE, including disposable overalls and shoe coverings and respirators
  • Separate the work area from others, putting up compliant signage and barriers.

If you find asbestos or ACM, all work must stop, the site must be secured, and the asbestos removed by a licensed asbestos remover. A Class A licence is required to remove friable asbestos. A Class B licence is required to remove non-friable asbestos.

If there is less than 10m2 of non-friable asbestos in the entire project, you may remove it yourself without a Class B licence but, in addition to the above requirements, you must:

  • Ensure your workers have equipment to suppress or capture the dust, and that they use it
  • Ensure there are decontamination facilities available
  • Ensure the waste, equipment and clothing is properly disposed

Owners of commercial buildings have responsibilities too. They have until 4 April 2018 to develop an asbestos management plan and must make that available to you if they ask you to tender for work.

They are not allowed to retain the services of a contractor who may be exposed to asbestos unless that contractor can demonstrate they meet the requirements of the regulations. That is a business opportunity – or a risk. Those that market their understanding and competence will gain a competitive advantage over those that don’t.

These regulations are designed to keep you and your workers safe from harm. It may be late coming, but at least the next generation of chippies can look forward to a longer and healthier life!

If you would like to know more or get some assistance to manage your asbestos risks, contact Major Consulting Group Ltd on 0800 44 00 70.

This article was first published in the Registered Master Builders Association magazine in June 2016.

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One Response to “Asbestos – the new frontier”

  1. JulieOctober 11, 2016 at 10:36 pm #

    great article about asbestos

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