Taking action on asbestos

Asbestos encapsulation in progress

On April 4th 2018, the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 came fully into effect. Where previously building owners or occupiers were tasked with identifying asbestos in the workplace, the new regulations mean that these properties must have an asbestos management plan in place.

WorkSafe's Approved Code of Practice: Management and Removal of Asbestos (ACOP) states that building owners and occupiers who manage or control a workplace (called "Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking" or PCBU's) are responsible for proactive and positive management of workplace health and safety. Asbestos-related disease is our number one workplace killer, with 170 New Zealander's succoming to diseases stemming from exposure to asbestos every year. The risks are great, hence the ACOP's recommendation that a building owner or occupier must first consider eliminating asbestos from the workplace wherever practical. 

With a significant proportion of New Zealand commercial, industrial and residential properties likely to contain some form of asbestos in roofing, cladding, ceilings and other major building components, often complete removal is impractical. However, the onus is on property owners and occupiers to eliminate, isolate or minimise the risk of asbestos exposure and ensure this is clearly documented through an asbestos management plan.

What is an asbestos management plan?

An asbestos register and management plan is a document which lists all known occurrences of asbestos containing materials and potential asbestos containing materials within the workplace, its location, its condition, a description of the material, how it has been controlled, and how it may be disturbed. The document includes procedures for safely managing identified actual or potential asbestos containing material, through either controlled onsite maintenance or removal from the site. The asbestos management plan also incorporates an emergency procedure to be followed in the event that material is disturbed. The purpose of the management plan is to ensure that all possible and practical steps are taken to prevent or minimise the risk of exposure to asbestos for building occupants and site maintenance workers.

If you don't already have an asbestos management plan in place, act now by:

  1. Engaging with a professional to conduct an asbestos survey of all buildings
  2. Where asbestos is identified, keep a record of the location and condition of the asbestos, update your risk register and clearly indicate the presence and location of asbestos or asbestos containing material
  3. Ensuring you have a written asbestos management plan that outlines:
    • The idenitifcation of asbestos or asbestos containing material;
    • Decisions (including reasons for those decisions) on how the risk caused by the asbestos is managed (such as removal, enclosure, encapsulation or sealing); and
    • Procedures for detailing incidents or emergencies involving asbestos or asbestos containing material at the workplace.

Your responsibilities as a property owner or occupier

Property owners or occupiers must ensure that the asbestos management plan is kept up-to-date and a copy is readily available to any worker or tenant who has carried out, carries out, or intends to carry out work at the property. This plan will need to be updated whenever circumstances change, for example, where asbestos is removed or disturbed, or if five years have passed since the plan was last reviewed.

As the hazard presented by asbestos is its fibres which, if inhaled, can lodge in the lungs, the regulations also require property owners or occupiers  to ensure that a person's exposure to airborne asbestos is eliminated wherever possible, or minimised where it is not reasonably practical to eliminate the risk. Any building owner or tenant that commissions "Class A" asbestos removal work (removal of easily-crumbled asbestos), is required to ensure that an independant licensed asbestos assessor undertakes air monitoring of the asbestos removal area.

Failure to implement a fit for purpose and robust health and safety system could result in substantial fines and/or imprisonment. Those who own or manage a workplace are encouraged to ensure they have covered all bases and clearly understand their responsibilities as part of the regulations.

For further guidance on asbestos regulations, please visit the WorkSafe New Zealand website.

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