If you’re renovating, demolishing or adding to a building you may have to deal with asbestos contamination, particularly if it was built before the year 2000.
There are several ways of approaching this kind of building work. You could make a best guess following the WorkSafe Approved Code of Practice Guidance, employ a surveyor to assess the building and produce an asbestos management plan for the build, or simply assume the building contains asbestos and write a plan accordingly.
What if we assume asbestos?
If you assume that the entire building contains asbestos, you’ll need to include much more stringent management actions in your plan. It will also depend on the state of the asbestos. If you have walls in a poor state, then the course of action will be different to a building in good condition.
The plan could state that you will employ the services of a licensed surveyor prior to starting any works and management actions will be defined in greater detail at that time.
You could choose to revisit or update the plans if your staff are trained and better equipped to identify asbestos.
What to do if you suspect asbestos
In a sound and contained state, asbestos is not dangerous. It is only once the fibres become airborne that asbestos becomes a risk to our health. So if you suspect asbestos, keep a close eye on it if it’s in good condition.
If you think there’s asbestos in the building, find the Worksafe NZ management plan fact sheet online. This can help you manage your duties under the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations.
Where you may find asbestos
Asbestos can be located in a variety of places in buildings. As it’s a fire-resistant and hard-wearing material, it’s commonly found in places that may get hot or wet.
In homes this includes the walls behind stoves in kitchens, interior and exterior walls, under flooring like lino, roofs and ceilings, hot water tanks, insulation and lagging, gutters and downpipes, fireplace surrounds and chimneys, fuse boards, internal water pipes and round windows and door frames.
In commercial buildings, it’s found in many of the same places, but also in the centre of fire doors and in lift ropes and lift shafts.
What to do if asbestos found
If you find asbestos, or are worried that you’ve damaged something that may contain it, stop work immediately. Keep people away from the area and make sure you minimise the spread of contamination. Then get in touch with WorkSafe, who can advise you on what to do next.