A retired painter decorator has copped costs nearing $40,000 after he failed to properly remove asbestos from a job site, exposing people to risk.
John Carstairs Robertson used to work as a painter decorator in Taranaki and asbestos removal was among the suite of services he offered.
But a small job to remove six fibre building sheets riddled with the dangerous material from a shed last year turned into a major headache for the 74-year-old,
who has now been convicted of three charges laid under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
At Monday’s sentencing, WorkSafe lawyer Lucy Moffitt said Robertson was responsible for “multiple failings” at the New Plymouth site.Carstairs previously pleaded guilty to failing to give the proper written notice to WorkSafe about the removal work and failing to take all practicable steps to ensure other people, and his employee, were not put at risk.
The breaches included the use of hand tools to break up the asbestos material, not wearing masks or proper protective clothing and failing to restrict access to the site.
WorkSafe’s investigation found Robertson had failed to manage the risk of asbestos appropriately, despite training and a prior improvement notice being issued.
Along with a fine, Moffitt sought remediation and prosecution costs
Judge Chris Sygrove said in February 2017 Robertson was engaged to remove asbestos from a shed on a New Plymouth property, which was up for sale.
The judge said during the course of the work, the defendant had misunderstood his obligations regarding health and safety and racked up a number of violations.
“You accept that the procedures you adopted were flawed,” Judge Sygrove said.
A complaint was subsequently laid by the new owner of the property, who had to get another company
in to finish the job. When setting a fine for the offending, Judge Sygrove took into account Robertson’s ability to pay.
He said Robertson’s financial situation was tight, as he had minimal savings and few assets.
Defence lawyer Julian Hannam said Robertson accepted he struggled to maintain the integrity of the
site and adhere to the necessary requirements, including ensuring masks were worn and access to the
site was restricted.
But at 74, Robertson was retired and had no plans to undertake any more work, Hannam said.
Judge Sygrove fined the defendant $35,000 and ordered him to pay the remediation and prosecution
costs, totalling $3878.29.
In response to the sentencing, Simon Humphries, WorkSafe deputy general manager of investigations and specialist services, said asbestos was the number one killer in the New Zealand workplace.
About 170 people died each year from asbestos-related diseases, he said.
“No asbestos removal plan was prepared and Mr Robertson’s haphazard removal work not only put himself and a worker at risk, but the occupier and visitors to the property, and those in the neighbouring area,” Humphries said.