Asbestos is New Zealand’s number one killer in the workplace. Around 220 people die each year from asbestos-related diseases. As part of the recent Health and Safety at Work Act, the regulations for working with asbestos changed. The transition period around some of the changes ends on April 4, 2018. To help you keep on top of these changes, we have put together some quick tips on what you need to know.

Breathing in airborne asbestos fibres is a serious health risk. Once the fibres are breathed in, they lodge in the lungs and may cause diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. If asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are disturbed, tiny fibres are released. These fibres are hazardous if breathed in, and if you don’t take the right precautions to protect yourself, you could be risking your life and your livelihood.

Until the *mid-1980s, asbestos was often used as a fire retardant and insulation. It can often be found in places such as: sprayed-on fireproofing, soundproofing, thermal insulation, decorative coatings, floor coverings (such as vinyl), cement products, roofing sheets and lagging around pipes.

If you have any suspicions that asbestos is present, ask an asbestos surveyor to conduct a survey. For more information on asbestos surveys, refer to the Good Practice Guidelines for Conducting Asbestos Surveys. If asbestos is found, you should bring in a licensed professional.

If you do uncover or damage materials that may contain asbestos:

  • Stop the work immediately
  • Keep people away
  • Minimise the spread of contamination to other areas
  • Get advice on what to do next from a professional

New rules:

In April 2018 a licensing system for the removal of asbestos was introduced by WorkSafe:

There are two types of licences, Class A and B, which determine the type and amount of asbestos that you can remove.

Class A holders can remove:

  • friable asbestos or ACM (asbestos containing material)
  • asbestos-contaminated dust or debris (ACD)
  • non-friable asbestos or ACM

Class B can remove: non-friable asbestos or ACM

ACD associated with removing non-friable asbestos or ACM

However, a competent person without a licence can remove:

  • 10m² or less of non-friable asbestos or ACM (cumulatively over whole project) and the associated ACD
  • minor amounts of ACD, not associated with the removal of friable or non-friable asbestos

Licence holders can nominate supervisors on their WorkSafe licence to supervise workers. A licence must have at least one nominated supervisor. There is no limit to the number of supervisors as long as they meet the criteria.

Supervisors must be: aged 18 or over, have a level of experience relevant to the Class of licence, be present at the removal area when Class A work is carried out, and in the vicinity and readily available whenever Class B work is being carried out, and be suitably qualified as per WorkSafe requirements. From April 4, 2018 assessors are required to provide air quality monitoring and clearance certificates for Class A removals. To learn more about the monitoring requirements, refer to the Approved Code of Practice for the Management and Removal of Asbestos.

Notifications of licensed asbestos removal should now be made to WorkSafe five days before work starts.

Last November, WorkSafe introduced a new Approved Code of Practice for the Management and Removal of Asbestos. To learn more about basic asbestos risks on our Passport Plus - Worker Health course or our Passport Plus – Flexi (Online + Classroom) course.

*The importation of blue and brown asbestos in its raw friable state has been banned since 1984 and white asbestos since 1999. A ban on the import of all products containing asbestos (except with a special permit) came into force on October 1, 2016.