Asbestos went undetected in botched demolition job

A company was fined $150,000 at the Auckland District Court yesterday after a botched home demolition job left a neighbour trapped in her property and workers at risk of exposure to asbestos.

During the incident in December 2017 Quick Earth Moving Limited used two large diggers to pull down a house in Point Chevalier and immediately ran into issues. The first digger was used to demolish the house while the second digger was used to support a wall to prevent it from collapsing onto a neighbouring property.

The wall collapsed on a neighbour’s driveway damaging the side of their house. The wall also hit a gas terminal causing a leak. Neighbours had to vacate the area but the owner of the neighbouring property was trapped in their wheelchair at the back of her property as their driveway was covered in debris. Emergency services had to build a ramp to allow them access out of her property.

Robert Birse, WorkSafe’s Principal Advisor Asbestos, said there was a litany of failings on the job - the company failed to safely demolish the house and had not considered how to manage demolition of a property they suspected had asbestos.

“The company should have hired someone with experience to identify whether asbestos was present and remove the asbestos before demolition commenced.”

The Judge also imposed an adverse publicity order on the company under section 153 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. This order requires Quick Earth Moving Limited to publish on their website the offence, consequences and penalty imposed.

The Judge also imposed two work health and safety project orders under section 155 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. These require the company to deliver a training seminar targeted at those working within the construction and residential property development sectors and specifically where key personnel have English as a second language. They also require the company to engage a health and safety expert to deliver a training programme to all of the company’s employees covering the practical management of hazards and risks they are exposed to at work.

Mr Birse said poor planning from the very start of the job left workers, neighbours and the community at risk and these serious failings were reflected in yesterday’s sentencing.

“Quick Earth Moving Limited failed to consult and co-ordinate with other businesses involved in the project resulting in the poor management of demolition risks and uncertainty around who was responsible for managing the risks.

“The company were completely out of their depth. There was no demolition management plan in place, inadequate risk assessment and workers were not provided with adequate training and procedures on how to conduct demolition.

“This demolition job was botched from the beginning and the company is extremely lucky no-one was seriously injured or killed.”

Notes:

  • A fine of $150,000 was imposed.
  • Reparation of $30,000 was ordered to the occupants of the neighbouring property.
  • Quick Earth Moving Limited faced two charges under sections 36(1)(a), 36(2) and 48(1) and 48(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
  • Being a PCBU having a duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers who work for the PCBU, while the workers were at work in the business or undertaking, namely undertaking demolition work, did fail to comply with that duty, and that failure exposed the workers to a risk of serious illness, injury or death arising from the collapse of a wall.
  • Being a PCBU having a duty 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 demolition work, did fail to comply with that duty, and that failure exposed other persons to a risk of serious injury or death arising from the collapse of a wall.
  • The maximum penalty for each charge is a fine not exceeding $1,500,000.

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