April 2017 marks the one-year anniversary of the new regulations for working with asbestos. It will also mark the launch of the first ever Asbestos Awareness Week in New Zealand.
Asbestos is New Zealand’s number one killer in the workplace with around 170 people dying each year from asbestos-related diseases*.
That is why the New Zealand Demolition & Asbestos Association (NZDAA), along with its partners, will be highlighting the dangers posed by asbestos exposure and promoting safe working practices for asbestos throughout the month of April.
There are numerous trades and professions with the potential for being exposed to asbestos containing materials in the workplace.
In addition to the more obvious demolition and construction worker, workplace asbestos exposure risk can also include the whole remit of tradespeople that work in both the commercial and domestic environments, everyone from roofers, plumbers, electricians and gas fitters, to tilers, carpenters, painters and builders.
Due to its common use in building products from the 1940s onwards, most buildings built or renovated before 1990 are likely to contain some type of asbestos materials.
Tradespeople are therefore likely to come across some form of asbestos every single day. Undisturbed and in good condition or sealed, non-friable asbestos is relatively safe – but if it is likely to become disturbed due to renovation or repairs, it has the potential to become harmful.
That is why it is crucial for all tradespeople to learn how to identify and work safely around asbestos in order to control the risk of disturbance and exposure.
It is also a requirement under the HSWA (Asbestos) Regulations 2016, that asbestos is identified and removed before any renovations or refurbishments can commence on any building, structure or home built before January 1st 2000.
The NZDAA recommends that all tradespeople undergo asbestos awareness training to increase their knowledge of asbestos containing materials, where these can be found and how to manage them safely to avoid putting not only their own health at risk, but also the health of the homeowner, their family and the general public.
If you are unsure whether or not a product contains asbestos, assume it is and take all necessary safety precautions – or engage a competent person to conduct an asbestos survey.
It is important to avoid doing anything that could cause asbestos fibres to be released. Never use high pressure water spray or compressed air on asbestos materials, as this can cause the asbestos fibres to become airborne, and is now also illegal under the HSWA (Asbestos) Regulations 2016.
Never use power tools or equipment to cut or sand, as this could generate dust or release fibres that could potentially be inhaled.
Always keep personal protective equipment on hand as part of your tool kit should you come across asbestos in the workplace.
But most importantly, undergo asbestos awareness and competency training.
And for areas containing more than 10sqm of non-friable asbestos or any amount of friable asbestos – always engage a licensed asbestos removal professional.
Asbestos Awareness Week runs from 3-7th April 2017.
There will be numerous activities happening up and down the country, as well as a new information website to help educate tradespeople and home renovators on everything they need to know when it comes to becoming asbestos aware and managing their asbestos exposure.
For more information visit www.theafactor.co.nz or contact the NZDAA.
*Reference WorkSafe New Zealand