Asbestos Management in New Zealand.
In a quick Google News search for asbestos, you will find countless articles on asbestos-related fines for landlords and tradespeople. Landlords in New Zealand have a legal obligation to ensure any work being carried out on their property is completed in accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA). This includes detailed laws surrounding the management of asbestos-related risks.
Asbestos is a proven carcinogen when it comes into contact with humans and all forms of this naturally occurring mineral can cause cancer. Prior to the 1980s, asbestos was commonly used in building materials for homes and various household products. While the mineral was gradually phased out due to health risks, there are still products and materials that could contain this toxic substance - properties built before 1984 are at particularly high risk for asbestos contamination and houses that had work completed up until 2000 are also at risk. As such, careful measures need to be taken to protect the general public from asbestos exposure.
There are three types of asbestos at the root cause of contamination:
- Chrysotile - white
- Amosite - brown
- Crocidolite - blue
A laboratory analysis of the asbestos fibres is required for formal identification.
Health problems usually occur when asbestos becomes airborne and enters a person’s respiratory system. The higher the quantity and the longer a person is exposed, the greater the health risk is. When exposed for long periods, asbestos poisoning can cause -
- Cancer of the ovaries, larynx, or lungs
- Asbestosis - scarring of lung tissue
- Mesothelioma - cancerous tumours around the intestine or lungs
- Pleural plaques - this causes the membranes in a person’s lungs to thicken
It is estimated that around 220 people will die every year from asbestos-related illnesses, however, it may take several years for symptoms to appear. Fines can range from the tens of thousands to well over $100,000 for failing to comply with safety regulations. All PCBUs, a person conducting a business or undertaking, are subjected to the Asbestos Code of Practice under the WorkSafe Act - including landlords and property managers.
What do you need to do?
If your property is undergoing any form of maintenance, repairs, or renovations, you need to ensure it is a safe environment to work in. If you are unsure if asbestos is present on your property, you should organise an asbestos surveyor to conduct a survey. If asbestos is found, we would highly recommend bringing in a licensed professional to conduct the removal. WorkSafe introduced an official licensing system for the removal of asbestos in 2018. There are two license classes - A and B.
A Class A Asbestos holder can:
- Remove both friable and non-friable ACM (material containing asbestos) or asbestos
- Remove contaminated debris (ACD) or dust that could lead to airborne fibres
A Class B Asbestos holder can:
- Remove non-friable ACM or asbestos
If you do not hold a license but are reasonably competent and follow health and safety guidelines, you can remove 10m2 or less of non-friable ACM or asbestos and any associated ACM. In the case of ACD, you may remove minor amounts that is not related to non-friable or friable asbestos.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential when removing any materials containing asbestos. This includes respiratory protective equipment (RPE), overalls that protect against asbestos dust (these should be disposable or washable at specialised laundries), and appropriate footwear that is non-laced. Appropriate RPE includes disposable half-face respirators, reusable half-face respirators (cartridge), full-face respirators (cartridge), and full-face powered respirators. A fit test should be conducted before the first use. This needs to assess the seal between the facepiece and your face. If you are not confident in self-testing, you can search online for a health and safety consultant or practitioner who is trained in respirator fit testing.
The majority of tradespeople are likely to encounter asbestos throughout their careers. For builders, electricians, painters, and plumbers, WorkSafe provides a series of guides to ensure work is undertaken safely. These will help manage the risk of working with or near asbestos and protect people from exposure.
Disposal must be done at an authorised asbestos disposal site. You can ask your local council for rubbish dump sites that comply with the Resource Management Act. Visit WorkSafe for more information on removal best practices.
According to WorkSafe, the most common places where asbestos is found are:
- Windows and doorframes
- Internal water pipes
- Electrical fuse boards
- Downpipes and gutters
- Hot water tanks
- Fireplace and chimneys
- Kitchen walls behind stoves
- Flooring - lino and wet areas are prime targets
- Exterior and interior walls
A landlord's duty to identify asbestos and organise a management plan applies:
- When planning and carrying out work that is associated with the risk of contamination
- To the relevant area that is at risk
If you are planning any upcoming work and unsure about your next steps, Hammond & Co can help you navigate asbestos regulations and ensure you are fully compliant. We offer both full-service management options and casual services. Contact us on 0800 350 022 to find out more.