Builders: What you need to know about asbestos

As a builder or tradesperson, you are likely to come across asbestos when undertaking renovation work on commercial and domestic sites. While commercial properties should have an asbestos register for you to sight before commencing any work, domestic property owners (or tenants) may not be aware that there is asbestos present.

Asbestos is a serious health risk

Asbestos is the biggest occupational disease risk to construction workers. Repeated exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing asbestos-related diseases in the future as the effect is cumulative. These diseases however will not affect you immediately as it can take 15 to 60 years to develop any symptoms It is also important to remember that you are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer from asbestos if you smoke. 

Where is asbestos found

Asbestos is still in many homes, workplaces and public buildings throughout New Zealand. Any building pre-2000 could contain asbestos fibres in floor and ceiling tiles, roof shingles, flashing, insulation (especially around furnaces, pipework, ducting, sheeting, and fireplaces), pipe cement, siding, and seams.  Even some recently-constructed buildings may have asbestos or ACMs. Asbestos and ACMs are not dangerous if they are in a good condition and remain undisturbed.

Can you prevent this risk?

Yes. There are a number of steps you can take, beginning with always considering the possibility that the property you are working on may contain asbestos. Before the start of maintenance, refurbishment, demolition or any other type of construction work, employers must identify the presence of asbestos as part of their risk assessment.

If there is uncertainty (based on reasonable grounds) as to whether any material is likely to contain asbestos, then you either:

  • Assume asbestos is present or
  • Arrange for analysis of a sample to be undertaken.

Asbestos awareness training

The best way to learn how to identify and safely handle asbestos is to attend asbestos awareness training. Courses are available across New Zealand and usually take just a couple of hours. Morecroft recommend AsbestosWise who provide a range of convenient and inexpensive online courses.

Protection

It’s really important that builders protect themselves against asbestos, even on small jobs that don’t seem to create much dust.

  • If possible, plan the job so that no asbestos will be disturbed.
  • If asbestos has to be disturbed, don’t start work until having the right information and training to work safely.

Use the right personal protective equipment (PPE). Remember that PPE is the least effective control measure – it should not be the first or only control measure considered. We also recommend wearing disposable coveralls. These will stop asbestos fibres getting onto your clothes.

More information

WorkSafe have a lot of information available on asbestos.

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