Asbestos on the Building site – What you NEED to know

So, you think you’ve come across asbestos on a job?

You know WorkSafe is cracking down on building sites throughout the country. But how dangerous is asbestos really? And what exactly are the consequences of not adhering to the NZ Health & Safety (Asbestos) Regulations? 

The NZ Health & Safety (Asbestos) Regulations are in place and enforced to protect you (the Builders) and sub-contractors. Each year, over 170 people die from asbestos-related diseases in New Zealand, and tradespeople are  at a higher risk of exposure to asbestos on the building site than a member of the public. The objective of these Regulations is to keep you safe and ensure you live a healthy life with family and friends.

We all know that getting rid of asbestos is costly. However, the  steps in the case studies below will help you  not only to save money, but to also protect the health and life span of your clients, the public and your team. A win-win! 

Case Study:

“I’ve won a contract for renovating a house, built in the 1970s. What do I need to do prior to starting work, in relation to asbestos? “

  1. Ask the client if they have previously had an asbestos survey done on the property.   More often than not, they won’t have. This is the first step to identifying whether building materials contain asbestos. It also identifies the extent of the asbestos material(s), as well as the type and condition. If you are renovating a building, the immediate area of renovation and any adjacent locations that may be impacted while doing the work should be inspected. If a full demolition is planned, then the whole house will need to be surveyed.
  2. Organise an asbestos survey. By law you must have an asbestos survey done (refurbishment or demolition survey) before you start work if the house was built between 1930 – 2000 . Generally, houses built or renovated between 1970-1990 are highly likely to contain asbestos building products. 
  3. Include these costs at part of your job. Ultimately the PCBU (person conducting business or undertaking) is your company when you take over the site. It is your responsibility to protect your building crew and sub-contractors or visitors that come on site. The client purchased the house (and the asbestos with it).
  4. Removal of asbestos. Once the asbestos containing materials (ACMs) have been identified by the surveyor within your renovation or demolition area, asbestos removal will need to be organised. We recommend asking your surveyor for a list of qualified asbestos contractors as they will be familiar with the contractors’ quality of work and cleanliness,  saving you time and money.
  5. Clearance inspection. After asbestos removal providing the site has passed and is clear of any asbestos fibres.  a clearance inspection and certificate will be issued by an asbestos surveyor, allowing work to re-commence.

Case Study:

“What do I do if I’m halfway through a job and think I have come across asbestos on the building site?”

  1. STOP WORK and secure the area  immediately. Leave all tools in the area and corner off the zone with cones or tape. Clothing should be removed and left in a sealed bag. Do not allow anyone to enter the area. Call an asbestos consultant to site to collect and analyze a sample.
  2. AVOID the immediate work area until sample results come back. This is to protect you, your team and sub-contractors that come onto site. This may mean work will stall for a day or two but it may protect lives.
  3. WAIT FOR RESULTS. Once the sample has been processed and depending on the results, work will either re-commence if given the all-clear, or decontamination will take place followed by a Clearance Assessment. 

Have your asbestos consultant’s phone number handy in case of asbestos concerns in the future. They can provide fast sample analysis and recommendations around decontamination and asbestos removal. 

Why is asbestos so dangerous?

Asbestos was considered a wonder product from the late 1930s – 1999 for its hard wearing properties, excellent for NZ’s harsh conditions. It’s fire proof, an excellent heat insulator and used in over 3,000 products in NZ. NZ only stopped importing asbestos containing products in 2016.

 The problem arises when asbestos-containing building materials are broken, releasing microscopic fibres into the air which are inhaled. Over 10,000 asbestos fibres can fit on the end of a pin head, this is how small they really are. You can’t see them, or identify them with the naked eye. Identification must be done in a laboratory. Exposure to asbestos may lead to lung cancers, mesothelioma and asbestosis. 

Written by Stephanie Brookes, Director, Meth Wise Ltd.

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