WorkSafe identify asbestos as New Zealand’s biggest workplace killer, attributing 170 deaths as asbestos related. New Zealand has lagged many other countries in the way we manage asbestos and this has led to the premature deaths of many New Zealand workers. I suspect that it’s impossible to calculate but asbestos may have been a factor in thousands of deaths. For each case, the latency period for the presenting disease is between 40 -50 years, suggesting that most cases presenting today resulted from exposures during the late 1960s and 1970s, during the peak period of asbestos use in this country. Hopefully we are reaching a peak of disease impact and in future years this will reduce. To an extent, the emphasis placed on statistically demonstrating how many deaths were linked to smoking probably also contributed to asbestos related deaths being understated.
Asbestos is a mineral fibre, it’s been used for centuries as it doesn’t react to other substances and is heat resistant. In New Zealand, it was first imported in the 1930’s and we found more and more uses for it. For example, a factory that manufactured asbestos containing materials (ACMs) opened in Riccarton, Christchurch in 1943 and closed in 1974. It is estimated that between 900 and 2,000 workers were employed over the factory’s lifetime. Asbestos was also used extensively in major construction products such as Meremere power station built in 1958.
WorkSafe is now placing greater emphasis on asbestos and so for the first-time improved processes to manage it are getting some traction. It’s not before time the WorkSafe website holds a collection of reports calling for tougher measures - Asbestos Registers - National - Annual Reports.
In 1990 an Asbestos Advisory Committee was formed and some years later an Asbestos Register to track the health of persons with significant exposures.
New Zealand’s first Asbestos Regulations did not come into effect until 1978 and in 1984 the importation of raw asbestos was banned. This however had several loop holes and it wasn’t until much later that the reuse of asbestos was banned and not until 2016 was there a ban on imported goods containing asbestos.
The Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 caused widespread damage across Christchurch potentially exposing many people to significant quantities of asbestos containing dust (ACD) and may be the cause of another spike in asbestos related conditions.
The legislative structure and supporting documents have brought major changes and a significantly more complex structure to dealing with asbestos.
Firstly, there is a clearer definition of ‘work involving asbestos’ and it is divided as shown in the diagram.
This also demonstrates the new concept of Class A and Class B work which is also used as licenses for removal work. Class A work involving friable asbestos which means asbestos in a dust form or which can be crumbled to a dust by hand when dry. Class B work involves non-friable asbestos generally this is mixed with a bonding compound like concrete or bitumen.
Another major change is to develop a pathway for the identification and management of asbestos. Part of the process first mentions a newly developed role of a licensed asbestos assessor. Traditionally asbestos work was undertaken by an asbestos removalist, the role now has been split. A key factor in this regime is to establish independence between the assessor and the removalist.
|Licensed asbestos removalist||Licensed asbestos assessor|
|Supervisor may identify||May identify and provide an Asbestos Management Plan|
|Removes asbestos||Monitors the removal of asbestos by conducting air sampling|
|Assess clearance and issue a Clearance Certificate|
1. Identify or assume presence of asbestos
If a company knows or has reason to suspect the presence of asbestos they make sure it is identified. During the identification process, if there are reasonable grounds a company may assume asbestos is present and from then act as if this has been confirmed.
2. Assess risk and options for control
Once identified, the risk must be assessed particularly in relation to airborne asbestos.
Options for control should be identified and put in place. A process should also be developed to ensure controls are effective. These may include removal sealing or encapsulation.
3. Develop an asbestos management plan
The Asbestos Management Plan sets out information about the asbestos and how the company will deal with it. This will often be developed with the input of suitable experts such as a Licensed Asbestos Assessor.
4. Processes for accidents, incidents and emergencies
Procedures for how to deal either an accident or incident, or, an emergency should be included in the Asbestos Management Plan.
5. Review asbestos management plan's effectiveness
The company must review and update (if needed) the asbestos management plan every 5 years or when:
Asbestos controls are reviewed
Asbestos is removed, disturbed or enclosed
The plan is no longer adequate
Request by a worker representative
With good reason, I have titled this blog a starters guide, the Approved Code of Practice for the Management and Removal of Asbestos is 283 pages long. It is a well written and easy to follow document however this has become much more complex than it was. If you have issues or specific questions expert advice is a wise move.