More must be done to manage asbestos risks

Three organisations dedicated to reducing and eliminating asbestos exposure are calling on businesses and tradies to do better and keep themselves, their workers and others safe as Asbestos Awareness Week ends.

WorkSafe, the New Zealand Demolition & Asbestos Association (NZDAA) and the Faculty of Asbestos Management of Australia and New Zealand (FAMANZ) have come together to encourage better asbestos management.

“It’s our number one work-related killer, with around 220 people dying each year from preventable asbestos-related disease,” says WorkSafe Chief Executive Phil Parkes.

“What we’re seeing today is the legacy of past exposure to asbestos, often while at work. But action must continue to prevent future illness and death through proper asbestos handling and management.”

When kaimahi (workers) are required to work on asbestos-containing material they must be trained to do the work safely. This means understanding the risks involved and controls used to suppress or contain any asbestos-containing dust that is generated and how to dispose of asbestos waste safely so that others are not exposed to the dust.

“The dangers of asbestos exposure have been widely known for decades, and it’s important that businesses and tradies manage the risk appropriately. All kaimahi have the right to be kept healthy and safe at work,” says Mr Parkes.

“Lung diseases caused by asbestos, such as lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis, have taken a dreadful toll robbing many of their health and time with their whānau. Businesses must manage the risks from asbestos to keep people healthy and safe.”

NZDAA President Helina Stil says the amount of work being carried out in the construction industry, combined with aging residential and commercial buildings, means it’s not a ‘yesterday problem’ – asbestos exposure continues to be a risk.

“The proliferation of asbestos-containing materials in houses, buildings and machinery until the 1990’s, combined with the fact these are progressively deteriorating and are approaching or have exceeded their design life, means there remains the potential for accidental exposure by workers, DIYers and others,” says Ms Stil.

“Asbestos removalists are one part of the ecosystem, but it also begins with kaimahi on any site knowing how to identify and manage asbestos. This includes homeowners, landlords and property managers as well. Asbestos should be identified and appropriately addressed in similar fashion as a business would any other health and safety risk.”

FAMANZ is calling on businesses who need to remove asbestos to make sure they’re using quality professionals who belong to an industry body.

“Unsafe levels of asbestos exposure are happening every day because of poor work practices, insufficient identification of hazards prior to works, and a blatant disrespect for health and safety,” says FAMANZ Director Bridgette Jennings.

“Cost is cited as being more important than quality in the eyes of businesses when choosing qualified people to survey, remove, and assess asbestos. This attitude of price over competence needs to change. Quality must come first to ensure all reasonably practical steps are taken to protect people now and prevent more deaths in the future.”

Notes:

Asbestos Awareness Week 2022 ran from 21 to 25 November. See our information and resources.

WorkSafe’s asbestos licensing regime and the tools and resources are designed to protect the health of kaimahi and others. The asbestos section of our website has detail on how to identify and manage the risk, where asbestos is commonly found and with a register of licensed asbestos removalists for the public. NZDAA(external link) and FAMANZ(external link) also provide publicly available resources.

Businesses, including sole traders, are required to manage risks associated with asbestos exposure, including completing an asbestos management plan for all workplace buildings and structures built before 1 January 2000. An asbestos management plan sets out where any identified asbestos or asbestos-containing material is present, its condition and how it will be managed.

When asbestos-containing material is disturbed, tiny asbestos fibres may be inhaled. These fibres can lodge in the lungs and cause lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma or other serious lung diseases. 

WorkSafe issued a safety alert about high pressure water blasting this year

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