Asbestos removal not just a risk for the worker

Almost 50 years after New Zealand businesses working in and around construction were first made aware of the risks of asbestos, removal of the cancer causing material is still not being managed effectively.

“Asbestos is New Zealand’s number one killer in the workplace with around 170 people dying every year from asbestos-related diseases,” says WorkSafe Deputy General Manager, Investigations and Specialist Services, Simon Humphries.

Those working in construction need to be more diligent when it comes to managing asbestos removal because it is not just yourself at risk.

“Asbestos fibres can travel thousands of kilometres from a site where removal work is undertaken under certain weather conditions. Negligence is unacceptable and there is no excuse for putting the lives of others in and around your workplace at risk.”

These comments follow the sentencing of John Carstairs Robertson in New Plymouth District Court today on health and safety charges relating to unsafe removal of asbestos.

In February 2017, Mr Robertson began work on a New Plymouth property to remove asbestos containing material from a shed. His conduct departed significantly from current asbestos regulations and included the use of hand tools to break up asbestos containing material, no use of masks or proper protective clothing, and no management of airborne asbestos particles.

Our investigation found that Mr Robertson had failed to manage the risk of asbestos appropriately, despite training and a prior improvement notice. We were not notified of the class B removal work.

“No asbestos removal plan was prepared and Mr Roberston’s haphazard removal work not only put himself and a worker at risk, but the occupier and visitors to the property, and those in the neighbouring area,” Mr Humphries said.

Notes:

  • A fine of $35,000 was imposed.
  • Reparation of $2580.59 was ordered for site remediation.
  • Costs of $1297.50 were ordered.
  • John Carstairs Robertson faced three charges:

1. Regulations 34(1) and 34(5) of the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 

    • Being a licensed asbestos removalist failed to give written notice to WorkSafe at least 5 days before the removalist commences licensed asbestos removal work.
    • Maximum penalty of a fine not exceeding $6000.

2. Section 36(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

    • Being a PCBU, failed to ensure., so far as was reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other persons, was not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking, namely the removal of asbestos cladding.
    • Maximum penalty of a fine not exceeding $300,000.

3. Section 36(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

    • Being a PCBU who is a self-employed person, failed to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who worked for the PCBU while at work in the business of removal of asbestos cladding.
    • Maximum penalty of a fine not exceeding $300,000.

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