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Health and Safety
Taking care with materials, equipment and work procedures and dealing with hazards.
Asbestos-based products were widely used in construction from the 1920s to the mid-1980s. Commonly used products that contained asbestos included roof tiles, wall claddings, vinyl floor coverings, sprayed fire protection, decorative ceilings, roofing membranes, adhesives and paints.
On this page:
- health risks from asbestos
- testing for asbestos
- Asbestos Regulations 2016
- licensing system for asbestos removal
- working with asbestos
- cleaning up
Health risks from asbestos
Asbestos can cause asbestosis (lung disease) and lung cancer when inhaled. However, as symptoms often do not appear until 15–20 years after exposure, the danger of asbestos is easily underestimated. Claims made to ACC as a result of mesothelioma (a type of cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibres) were actually higher in 2020 than in 2010.
Most work-related deaths in in the building industry are the result of exposure to asbestos.
Both groups of asbestos minerals present health risks:
- the serpentine group (commonly called white asbestos)
- the amphibole group (including blue and brown asbestos).
When someone is diagnosed with a disease linked to asbestos exposure, the doctor making the diagnosis should inform ACC, which then contacts people to tell them what support is available. Lump sum compensation is available, but an application for this must be made while the person is alive.
Removing asbestos from a building or site is carefully regulated. Ignoring the rules can be costly – one careless demolition job that included failing to manage asbestos resulted in a fine of $150,000 in an Auckland court in September 2019. In February 2023 a Christchurch flooring company was fined $52,500 after it failed to identify that old vinyl flooring being replaced contained asbestos and failed to have an asbestos management plan in place.
It isn’t just during demolition or renovation work that asbestos can be a threat. Asbestos in the soil can also be a risk. This can come from, for example:
- where waste products containing asbestos were used as ground fill (up to the 1970s)
- where materials containing asbestos were dumped
- where buildings with asbestos materials were demolished and some waste left in the ground
- where rainfall over many decades, or high-pressure waterblasting on a wall or roof cladding, has led to asbestos fibres landing in the soil.
Testing for asbestos
If you suspect asbestos may be present, the following laboratories are able to test the material:
- Dowdell and Associates, Auckland (09 526 0246)
- Capital Environmental Services, Wellington (04 566 3311)
- K2 Environmental Ltd, Christchurch (03 384 8966) or Auckland (09 275 1261)
- Precise Consulting and Laboratory Ltd, Christchurch (03 943 5394)
For cladding or flooring, a sample approximately the size of two $2 coins (or approximately 2 x 3 cm minimum) is required. For decorative ceiling finishes, a minimum of one tablespoonful is required, and this should include any sparkly or stipple material. See the Approved Code of Practice: Management and Removal of Asbestos on the WorkSafe website.
Asbestos Regulations 2016
The Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 set out the rules around the removal of asbestos and the circumstances where WorkSafe must be notified.
Licensing system for asbestos removal
The licences available under the national asbestos regulations are:
|Type of licence||What asbestos can be removed?|
|Class A||Any type or quantity of asbestos or asbestos containing material, including:|
|• any amount of friable asbestos or asbestos containing material (ACM)|
|• any amount of asbestos contaminated dust or debris (ACD)|
|• any amount of non-friable asbestos or ACM.|
|Class B||Any amount of non-friable asbestos or ACM|
|ACD associated with removing any amount of non-friable asbestos or ACM.|
No licence is required for removing:
- up to 10 m2 of non-friable asbestos or asbestos-containing material over the whole course of the removal project for the site
- asbestos-contaminated dust that is associated with this volume of asbestos or asbestos-containing material, and/or any associated minor volume of asbestos-contaminated dust or debris.
A licensed asbestos assessor inspects completed Class A removal work and provides a clearance certificate. They can also carry out air quality monitoring during Class A removal work where this is required.
Under the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016, you must notify WorkSafe New Zealand of licensed asbestos removal work at least 5 days before work commences. You can find more details here.
You can find asbestos licence holders on the register here.
Working with asbestos
Work with asbestos that does not require a licence must nevertheless be carried out with care. If products containing asbestos are in sound condition and left alone, they do not pose a major risk. The risk occurs when materials are cut, sanded, waterblasted or broken up, resulting in asbestos fibres being released.
When working with asbestos, precautions include:
- sealing off the work area to minimise exposure to others
- wearing disposable overalls and cap
- using a half-facepiece respirator with a class P1 filter suitable for asbestos dust
- keeping asbestos-based material damp while handling it
- cleaning up at the completion of each day’s work.
- waterblast the asbestos-based material
- break sheets or drop them, causing them to break.
- Collect residue from the washing or other work with asbestos while it is still wet and bag in plastic or a closed container.
- Clearly mark bags/containers ‘Asbestos Hazard – wear respirator and protective clothing while handling the contents’.
- Dispose of asbestos at a place approved by the local authority and cover immediately with at least 1 m of earth.
- Vacuum residue and dust from all surfaces (including unsealed drawers and cupboards) using a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter.
- Wet mop after vacuuming.
Updated: 26 June 2023