The latest edition of guidelines for the safe management and removal of asbestos will have wide range implications for the entire New Zealand construction sector, says Terry Coleman, secretary of the New Zealand Demolition and Asbestos Association (NZDAA).
“It is very important that people working across all sub trades have training, similar to Site Safe training, in the identification, management and removal of asbestos, in order to protect themselves, others on the work site, and anyone in close vicinity to the contaminated building or structure.”
He says an electrician unwittingly drilling a hole for a security light in an asbestos cement board, is one example of how easily a tradesperson can be put at risk.
“If the right training, procedures and systems are not in place, a number of people can be seriously affected by asbestos mismanagement. We know of one instance where a garage roof with asbestos was waterblasted, contaminating neighbouring properties which housed young families. It is critical these sorts of mistakes do not occur.”
The third edition of Asbestos – New Zealand guidelines for the management and removal of asbestos was launched by NZDAA in April and contain the industry’s current best practice standards and procedures for the safe and efficient removal, transportation and disposal of asbestos contaminated material.
However the standards remain a work in progess in order to reflect the new Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016.
Terry says there are plenty of references to training of tradespeople on asbestos identification and management in the new regulations, however no training modules have yet been put in place.
“It is unfathomable that until now, the 8500 new building, plumbing and electrical apprentices entering the construction industry each year have not been taught asbestos safety during their training. They are coming out of their courses knowing nothing about the potential risks in older buildings with asbestos. We are putting a whole new generation of workers at risk.”
Terry says it was the Christchurch earthquakes that identified New Zealand’s deficiencies in asbestos management when compared to the rest of world, and highlighted the need for better regulations.
“We have looked at best practice guidelines from around the world, largely from England and Australia, and have adapted these to suit New Zealand legislation.”
Worksafe’s lengthy Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) for asbestos management and ACOP for surveying properties containing asbestos are also used by the industry.
Terry says the new legislation will separate out requirements for two groups – asbestos removalists and surveyors who deal with the material full time, and everyone else, who have the potential to come across asbestos in their work.
To make the process easier to understand, NZDAA has worked through the regulations and created a simple checklist, providing a synopsis of responsibilities for contractors, building owners, tenants, and asbestos specialists such as removalists.
“Each group has different responsibilities. For example many companies in tenanted buildings aren’t aware they are responsible for the safety of their workers. If there is asbestos in a building the company owner needs to know about it, its condition, and whether it is potentially hazardous and may need to be remediated.”
He gives the example of a client that re-roofed a warehouse 10 years ago, but still recorded asbestos in the building.
“The building had to be cleaned from top to bottom to ensure there were no fibres left putting workers at risk.”
Terry says of high concern is that New Zealand does not have personal exposure standards for asbestos alongside workplace exposure standards.
“Our workplace exposure standards are 0.01. However in Holland, among the strictest in the world, they have a personal exposure standard of 0.001 (or one fibre per cubic metre of air). We still have a long way to go to meet the world’s best practice standards.”
Another issue for the industry is the ability for anyone to get a Certificate of Competency for removing asbestos, which means building companies often want to do the work themselves, rather than calling in the experts.
“Many building companies and other trades are able to do this if they have registered and trained personnel on staff. However one of the risks is that they do not keep up with the requirements of the new legislation and need for additional training. It’s not good enough for them to say ‘we’ve always done it like this’ and not meet the new obligations.”
Terry is also concerned that the floodgates may open for “a whole lot of new companies” wanting to get into asbestos removal work without the appropriate systems and training in place.
“As an organisation, NZDAA wants to capture these people as members. We put out best practice guidelines, which means we can help them to work to industry standards. It also gives people confidence knowing they are dealing with a member of the NZDAA, at they have the back up and support available to them.”
Peter Ward, president of NZDAA says the new regulations are “very comprehensive” and will help to improve safety around asbestos management.
“It will continue to be a work in progress but we are pretty happy with we’re we’ve got to.” He says one of the biggest changes to the legislation is around pre-testing of structures for asbestos before demolition.
“A report on asbestos will now need to be provided at the time of demolition, which is a good thing. This will involve obtrusive and unobtrusive surveys. Sometimes a walkthrough is enough to identify an issue. However it could also involve knocking walls down to have a good look.”
He says the greater requirement for testing in the new regulations will take more time, but it is something contractors will have to work through.
“To get a clearance on a contaminated site can take quite a bit of time, which will have to be factored into contractors’ planning.”
Overall he says the changes to asbestos identification and management are much needed. “Asbestos is a big issue in New Zealand, and it is a matter of us working closely with the construction sector and all its associated sub trades to continue to raise the standards.”
Call for health and safety feedback
The New Zealand Demolition and Asbestos Association is calling for feedback from members on the new health and safety legislation, says president Peter Ward.
“The new legislation will be a focus of our AGM in June. We’ll be looking at its impacts and want to get good constructive feedback and criticism if any, from our members. We’re doing a lot of work to get our heads around how the industry will interact with the new Act, and it is critical our members are encouraged to engage in the process, and understand this work includes everyone involved in the demolition industry, not just the NZDAA committee.”
Peter has been in the president’s role for just over a year, and is pleased with the progress the association is making in various areas.
“We’ve been tidying up the structure of the association and have appointed a person to coordinate our member database and correlate and file information. Improving communication is another focus. We’re trying to get a newsletter out to our members at least every two or three months.”
Other initiatives include the development of training standards for the industry.
“We’re looking at standards offshore and working from there.”
NZDAA (formerly the NZ Demolition Contractors’ Association) was formed in the 1990s by a handful of Auckland based contractors. In the mid 2000s the Association reached a Memorandum of Understanding with the government to help develop industry codes of practice and guidelines.
It has since written Best Practice Guidelines for both Demolition and Asbestos.
Today its objectives are to improve the operating environment for its member organisations; continue to develop best practice guidelines; provide training and develop industry-led qualifications; lobby government on its members’ behalf, and provide a communication point for the industry.
Peter says the Christchurch earthquakes have had a significant impact on the demolition sector, with new requirements since then lifting the professionalism and intellectual standards in the industry, and weeding the “cowboys” out of the industry.
“The general standards within the industry have been raised, with qualified demolition contractors left carrying out the work. We certainly do a lot of things differently since Christchurch. The companies involved in the city’s recovery have had a unique opportunity to work in a concentrated area in a melting pot alongside other contractors from New Zealand and overseas. This has resulted in the sharing of some very good skill sets and methods, as well as structures and health and safety practices.”
He says bringing down over 1000 buildings in one city is unprecedented and extraordinary.
“Each building had its own unique challenges, quirks, problems and tricks which provided contractors with more opportunities to learn.”
Peter knows the benefit of working with offshore colleagues first hand, as he already has close ties with the industry in the United States.
“I attended a demolition convention there in 1987 where I joined the Demolition Association of USA and have been a member ever since. It has been fantastic to get to know some great people and wreckers in the industry in America, who are happy for me to ring and have a chat about industry issues. I’m really fortunate.”
NZDAA has over 100 members from a range of companies and organisations with wide-ranging skills.
“Potential members have to meet entry standards before they will be accepted, which includes the systems they have in place, their health and safety and work records, and commitment to the environment. Our members tend to be passionate about the industry and want to improve it.”
The current demolition and asbestos guidelines are available free to members and are available for purchase from the Association’s website.
“We don’t discriminate against non-members, with a host of information available to raise the level of everybody in the industry, whether they are members or not. Non-members are also welcome to attend our meetings.”