Asbestos started off as a commonly used building material in the second half of the 20th century, because of its heat, fire and noise resisting properties. After numerous claims workers becoming ill from lung diseases throughout the years, regulations began to tighten and the import of asbestos in NZ was banned in 2016, however many homes built prior to the year 2000 still contain the toxic substance. Find out more here.
From the 1940s until the 1990s, asbestos was commonly used on building sites because of its ability to resist fire, heat, chemicals and noise, and add strength to brittle materials like cement.
But from 1 October 2016, importing products containing asbestos into New Zealand was banned because it was discovered that asbestos is a carcinogen when its fibres get lodged in human lungs.
According to WorkSafe NZ, asbestos exposure is the leading cause of death from workplace-related disease. To reduce worker exposure to this hazard, the government introduced the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016. This new set of regulations required the asbestos removal industry to undergo more training around handling asbestos safely and submit to increased industry accountability in the form of checks by inspectors and certified safety management systems. The 2016 regulations gave businesses two years to implement these changes and as of 4 April 2018 all businesses were required to be compliant, including having an asbestos management plan in place.
But while these regulations apply to businesses and worksites, they could impact homeowners too. A house isn’t classed as a business unless it’s a rental, but if it’s being renovated by professionals it becomes a worksite and therefore needs to comply. WorkSafe says that houses built or renovated between 1950 and 2000 are likely to contain some form of asbestos, thus requiring an asbestos removal licence. While licenses are not required for work carried out on asbestos or asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) like maintenance or service work, the people doing the work must know how to work with asbestos safely.
“Any structures built or renovated before 2000 must consider that ACMs may be present,” says Simon Ness, a senior engineer and Environmental Contamination Team Leader from Thomas Consulting. “The current Asbestos Management Register cannot solely be relied upon. All work involving demolition or refurbishments in pre-2000 buildings require a ‘pre-refurbishment and-demolition survey’, as per the Good Practice Guideline: Conducting Asbestos Surveys to confirm if ACMs are present, the likelihood of disturbance and the correct management procedures required for working with asbestos during a project. A lead paint survey may also be required.”
“The regulations only apply if you are a PCBU (a person conducting a business or undertaking),” Ness says. “If you are completing DIY work at home there is no requirement to do a survey, but you could unwittingly expose yourself and your family to airborne asbestos fibres. Our advice is to have a competent person check what you’re working on and if necessary get a sample analysed before you start work because the remedial works required if an area becomes contaminated is expensive – not to mention risky for your health.” Jim Gleeson, an Auckland Renovation Consultant from Refresh Renovations, agrees.
“We recommend that if a homeowner is planning a renovation on a building that was built before 2000, they should carry out an investigation to see if an asbestos survey is right for you,” he says. “Refresh Renovations can assess if a potential risk is present in a home and arrange for a professional and code-compliant asbestos survey to be carried out.”
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