Asbestos identification, testing, removal and disposal regulations

by The Findlaw Team

What to do when you suspect asbestos

With an unprecedented amount of demolition taking place in Christchurch as part of the post-earthquake rebuild of the city, the problem of asbestos in older buildings has come to the fore. Any work involving asbestos, including the demolition of a building containing the substance, must comply with the Health and Safety in Employment (Asbestos) Regulations 1998.

Who do the Health and Safety in Employment (Asbestos) Regulations 1998 apply to?

The Regulations apply to all employers whose employees work with asbestos. Work with asbestos includes obvious activities, such as cleaning, handling, disposing of, processing, and storing asbestos. It also includes less obvious activities, including the demolition or maintenance of anything, including buildings or parts of buildings, that contains asbestos.

The Regulations apply to anyone who controls a place of work in relation to the employees working there. They also apply to a principal who controls a place of work in relation to any employees of, or self-employed, contractors and subcontractors carrying out work for the principal contractor (except for residential work).

Testing and identifying the presence of asbestos

The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 requires all employers to identify all significant hazards in the workplace. Asbestos is known to cause fatal diseases, so it comes under the definition of “significant hazard” and employers must therefore find out whether there is a risk of employees being exposed.

Employers and property owners should inspect their workplaces to establish whether asbestos-containing materials are present. It could be present in insulation, flooring, decorative coatings, soundproofing, or fireproofing materials, roofing sheets, and lagging.

Identification of materials that potentially contain asbestos should be carried out by someone who is familiar with construction and the use of asbestos in buildings. It is impossible to tell whether a material actually contains asbestos by looking, so once potential asbestos-containing material has been identified, it should be tested by a New Zealand accredited laboratory.

Control measures

Where work involving asbestos is carried out, employers are required by the Regulations to take all practicable steps to suppress the release of asbestos fibres into the air. If this is not possible and there is a likelihood that asbestos dust may become airborne, employers must make sure that employees are provided with, wear, and use, protective clothing and equipment.

The Regulations go on to specify that employers must take all practicable steps to ensure dust control equipment is used whenever asbestos is cut, ground, sanded, or abraded in any other way. Employers must also provide employees with (and make sure they use) protective equipment whenever asbestos is cut, ground, sanded, or abraded in any other way, during the removal of asbestos from a building, structure, vehicle, or ship.

Employers must take all practicable steps to provide adequate and suitable storage for protective clothing and equipment. Storage must be in a changing area that is accessible to, and conveniently located for, every employee who needs to wear or use it.

Where work is carried out that is likely to produce asbestos dust, employers must take all practicable steps to display clearly visible signs at the entrance to the areas where the work is being carried out that state (in letters of at least 100mm in height): “ASBESTOS HAZARD AREA – KEEP OUT”.

Employers must take all practicable steps to store any material that is likely to produce asbestos dust in closed containers that are impermeable to asbestos dust. The containers must be clearly marked with the words (in letters of at least 25mm in height) that state: “ASBESTOS HAZARD – WEAR RESPIRATOR AND PROTECTIVE CLOTHING WHILE HANDLING CONTENTS”. Employers also have a duty to take all reasonably practicable steps to store asbestos in a way that does not create a hazard.

Restricted work

Where “restricted work” is carried out, employers must take all practicable steps to isolate the area so as to avoid the dispersal of asbestos fibres to any other area.

“Restricted work” is defined as:

  • “(a) work involving asbestos, if the asbestos concerned is friable and is or has been used in connection with thermal or acoustic insulation, or fire protection, in buildings, ships, structures, or vehicles;
  • “(b) work involving asbestos, if the asbestos concerned is friable and is or has been used in connection with lagging around boilers, ducts, furnaces, or pipes;
  • “(c) the demolition or maintenance of any thing, including a building or a part of a building, containing friable asbestos;
  • “(d) the encapsulation of materials containing friable asbestos;
  • “(e) the use, on asbestos cement or other bonded product containing asbestos, of:
    • “(i) a power tool with any kind of cutting blade or abrasive device, except when it is used with dust control equipment; or
    • “(ii) any other equipment whose use may result in the release of asbestos dust, except when it is used with dust control equipment;
  • “(f) dry sanding of floor coverings containing asbestos.”

Anyone who carries out “restricted work” must either hold a certificate of competence or be under the direct supervision of someone who holds such a certificate.

The Regulations go into detail about certificates of competence, including who is permitted to hold one and the organisations that can issue them.

Notification of restricted work

Regulation 26 of the Health and Safety in Employment Regulations 1995 requires employers to notify the Department of Labour in writing of any notifiable work at least 24 hours before the work commences (with the exception of certain emergency work).

Restricted work involving asbestos is “notifiable work”.

The information that must be notified is:

  • Nature and location of the work;
  • Name, address, and contact details of the employer;
  • Date that the employer intends the work to begin; and
  • Estimated duration of the work.

 

Other requirements

The asbestos regulations contained detailed requirements for cleanliness and maintenance, contaminated clothing, and asbestos waste. Anyone who carries work with asbestos must be aware of these requirements and comply with them.



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