This Issue – A part of the Cleaning up feature
By David Hindley – 1 February 2018, Build 164 Link here
New rules about dealing with asbestos are almost fully in place. It’s not just a matter of asbestos in old buildings – we are also uncovering surprises about asbestos in soil and the risks it brings.
WHEN YOU think of building industry accidents and ailments, falls from height and similar injuries probably spring to mind, but they’re not the biggest cause of death. Exposure to asbestos – specifically breathing asbestos fibres into the lungs – is the single-biggest cause of fatalities. Around 170 Kiwis die each year from asbestos-related diseases.
While asbestos shouldn’t be in new building materials, a large amount remains in buildings from the 1920s to the mid-1980s (see Figures 1 and 2).
There are potentially serious health risks facing anyone refurbishing or demolishing these buildings. Old asbestos-cement roof and wall claddings, soffits, guttering and fencing are common. Asbestos can also be seen in surface finishes such as spray-on textured ceilings or as sound blocking or flame-retardant materials, backings to floor coverings, thermal insulation and pipes or lagging for insulating plant and equipment.
Figure 1: Commonly found asbestos in residential buildings.
The rules around handling and removing asbestos have changed. For a start, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 set in place a new system for enhancing the safety of workplaces generally. This was followed by the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016. The regulations set out the duties around working with and removing asbestos and set up a licensing system for removalists and assessors.
The new regulations apply more often than you might think. For example, one of them applies to the demolition or refurbishment of buildings built before 1 January 2000 where asbestos has been identified or is likely to be present. That covers a lot of buildings.
In these cases, a ‘competent person’ as explained in this article, must check whether asbestos or asbestos-containing material (ACM) is present. If the answer is yes, this must be removed before demolition starts. In the case of refurbishment – which is more than just minor work or routine maintenance – any asbestos or ACM likely to be disturbed by the refurbishment must be removed.
Licensing for asbestos removal
No licence is required for:
removing 10 m2 or less of non-friable asbestos or ACM over the whole course of the removal project
cleaning up asbestos-contaminated dust or debris associated with this
minor amounts of asbestos-contaminated dust or debris not associated with the removal of friable or non-friable asbestos.
Workers should wear a disposable P2 dust mask and disposable overalls for this work. They should seal the waste in plastic or other containers labelled ‘Asbestos hazard’ and dispose of at a place approved by the local authority.
Where there are larger quantities or there is friable asbestos to be removed, a licence is required. Friable asbestos is in a powder form or can be crumbled to a powder form when dry. It is especially dangerous because it can easily be breathed in.
Removalists with a Class A licence can deal with the highest-risk situations, removing any amounts of friable or non-friable asbestos or ACM or asbestos-contaminated dust or debris.
Removalists with a Class B licence can remove any amount of non-friable asbestos or ACM and the asbestos-contaminated dust or debris associated with this.
There is also a licence for asbestos assessors, which includes:
supervising air monitoring during Class A asbestos removal
carrying out clearance inspections for Class A removal
providing a clearance certificate for Class A removal.
There is a register of licensed removalists and assessors on the WorkSafe website.
As well as Class A and Class B licence holders, the asbestos regulations talk about a ‘competent person’. This person can make a determination about the presence of asbestos or ACM and carry out clearance inspections and issue a clearance certificate for Class B work.
A competent person ‘has the knowledge, experience, skills, and qualifications to carry out a particular task’. They should hold a certificate for an asbestos assessor training course specified by WorkSafe New Zealand or a tertiary qualification in occupational health and safety, occupational hygiene, science or environmental health.
In practice, a competent person will often be a ‘suitably qualified and experienced practitioner’, a role found in the National Environmental Standards. Territorial authorities often hold lists of people they regard as qualified for this role.
Approved Code of Practice
The 2016 Approved Code of Practice: Management and Removal of Asbestos was developed by WorkSafe New Zealand. Following the code is a way of demonstrating compliance with the law and the regulations.
The code is for everyone with a responsibility around asbestos. It applies just as much to property owners or managers with ACM in their buildings – or asbestos in their soil – as to licensed removalists or assessors. After the asbestos regulations themselves, this is the key document to follow.
National Environmental Standards
The Resource Management (National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health) Regulations 2011 and the Contaminated Land Management Guidelines are also relevant to asbestos removal.
These apply where the landowner is:
changing land use
removing/replacing a fuel storage system.
NOTE The Approved Code of Practice: Management and Removal of Asbestos can be downloaded at https://worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/asbestos/management-and-removal-of-asbestos/.