Did you know that asbestos-related disease is the leading cause of work-related death in New Zealand? This sobering statistic is being addressed as part of the recent health and safety reform.
On the 4th April 2016 the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 came into effect, with the exception of a handful of regulations covered by transitional provisions. On the 4th of April 2018, the transitional provisions will expire and the remaining regulations will come into force, affecting a significant number of NZ organisations - including many PCBUs that don't work with asbestos as part of their operations, but that do own or lease buildings that may contain products containing asbestos.
It's important to note that PCBUs who own or operate in workplaces that may contain asbestos containing materials (ACM) already have duties under the regulations in Part 2. Additionally, from 4th April 2018, all PCBUs that own, lease, or work on buildings that were constructed before the year 2000, will need to be aware of further duties under regulations 13 and 14.
Duties under the asbestos regulations are extensive and are largely focused on the correct management of asbestos, especially during removal. This article is primarily focused on providing clarity around the duties that will affect organisations who don't normally deal with asbestos as part of their day-to-day operations, such as building owners and tenants.
Could your building contain ACMs?
The short answer is YES. Asbestos is fire, heat, chemical and noise resistant, and also provides added strength to otherwise brittle materials. With these useful characteristics, use of asbestos in construction products was widespread.
ACMs are commonly found in both commercial and residential buildings, especially those constructed before 2000. It is important to note however, that although the likelihood of ACMs being present in newer buildings is reduced, it is still possible. The importation of ACMs to New Zealand was only banned in October 2016!
Where could it be?
Unfortunately, there are many places you might find asbestos in building materials. Tens of thousands of products that have been used in New Zealand are known to contain asbestos. Potential asbestos containing materials can only be identified by a competent person, and unless a material is presumed positive, you'll need to have samples analysed by an accredited laboratory.
As a guide, here are two images from WorkSafe NZ, showing where asbestos may be found in commercial and residential buildings.
What duties do PCBUs already have?
Although your organisation may not be dealing with ACMs as part of your normal operations, the PCBU does still have legal duties under these regulations, as summarised below.
Essentially, regulation 7 prohibits PCBUs from carrying out, or directing or allowing a worker to carry out, any work involving asbestos, aside from the exceptions specified in the regulations.
Regulation 9 places a duty on PCBUs to protect their workers from exposure to airborne asbestos at the workplace and ensure that contamination standards are not exceeded.
Regulations 10, 11 and 12 outline the requirements to ensure asbestos is identified at the workplace/s, that samples are analysed by an accredited laboratory (if required), and that where ACM is present, that its location is indicated.
What further duties will PCBUs have on 4th April 2018?
For the purposes of this article, there are two key regulations that will come into force next April.
Regulation 13 requires PCBUs to prepare a written asbestos management plan if asbestos is identified in their workplace/s. Regulation 14 requires the PCBU to review the plan at least once every five years, and under other specified circumstances.
It's important to note that the duty of each PCBU will be proportionate to their ability to influence or control the matter. This ,means that the main duty will normally lie with the building owner; however tenants will certainly have overlapping duties with building owners, and also with other tenants if they share a workplace.
You can read the WorkSafe Fact Sheet - Do you need and asbestos management plan? for further information on who needs an asbestos management plan. Or, for more details on what an asbestos management plan is and what it must contain, check out section 9 of the Approved Code of Practice for the Removal and Management of Asbestos.
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