Asbestos is a killer. Unfortunately, it’s been widely used throughout NZ in homes and commercial buildings. It’s not easy to remove, but doing so correctly could save a life.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that’s been used in NZ buildings since the 1900’s. It was used due to its insulation properties; it was non-combustible and protected against corrosion. As a result, it was used in many different products, including ceiling tiles, sprayed coatings, pipe insulation and even roofing. It was mixed in with lots of different materials, so it isn’t always easy to identify.
Generally, in NZ you’ll find it:
- As a sprayed coating on structural supports like columns and beams
- Asbestos thermal pipe lagging
- Insulation board door and ceiling panels and cladding
- Floor tiles and coverings similar to linoleum
- Roof sheeting, which is often grey with a soft wavy pattern
Any home built before the year 2000 will likely have some form of asbestos in it- it has been detected in over 3000 different building materials. And while it’s not a problem as long as it’s not touched or moved; the minute you start renovations or there’s damage to the material, the dust it releases is toxic and cancer-causing.
What are the health risks from asbestos?
There are four serious diseases that you can get from asbestos.
- Mesothelioma, an aggressive cancerous tumour that can take up to 40 years to show symptoms.
- Lung cancer, which asbestos causes six times more cases than mesothelioma. Lung cancer can be caused by other things, such as smoking.
- Asbestosis, which give the sufferer severe and persistent breathing difficulties, and is the pre-cursor to mesothelioma.
- Pleural thickening, when scar tissue thickens the lung membrane lining.
These diseases can take a long time to form, but once they have taken hold and you have symptoms, it’s too late to do anything. The only defence is prevention.
All four diseases are the result of asbestos fibres becoming lodged in lungs, where it becomes carcinogenic. As a result of its toxicity, laws in NZ have been implemented to minimise any risk of contact with asbestos.
Asbestos laws in NZ
In 2016, the Health and Safety Asbestos Regulations implemented changes that meant extra requirements for managing asbestos removal. This brought practices into line with Australia and the UK, and ensure tradespeople are much safer while carrying out their work.
For homeowners and landlords, this means that you are strongly advised to not carry out any repair or maintenance work yourself if there is a chance of asbestos. It’s expected that a survey is carried out and samples taken to assess if there is asbestos present, and where it’s located.
If a small amount of asbestos is located, less than 10m2, then any contractor is legally allowed to remove it. If there is more than 10m2, then a licenced asbestos removal company must be contracted to do the work. They will do the work in line with regulations and will provide you with a certificate once you can reoccupy the space.
According to the regulations, any commercial or industrial building constructed prior to 2000 must:
- Have an inspection to identify asbestos
- A management plan created
- Repairs done in line with the management plan and risks managed
- This management plan must be reviewed regularly
Asbestos licencing in NZ
For a contractor to be authorised to work to remove asbestos, there are strict guidelines that must be met. There are two licenses, class A, and class B. Class A allows the contractor to remove any and all forms of asbestos, in all quantities. Class B licenses can only remove non-friable (the type of asbestos that can’t crumble) ACM or asbestos.
To remove the asbestos correctly, there are a number of precautions that need to be taken.
The correct PPE (personal protective equipment) and RPE (respiratory protective equipment) must be worn to ensure no dust enters the lungs or becomes attached to clothing. There must be safe methods of work to ensure no cross-contamination across the building and air quality standards are met. There must be decontamination facilities available and protocol followed. And finally, the method of which the asbestos is disposed of must be safe and pose no risk to other people. Testing must be carried out to ensure all asbestos is removed and that none is remaining in the home or building upon completion.
As a landlord, home owner, or business, it is your duty to ensure laws and regulations are followed. While it poses the greatest risk to people who are exposed regularly to it, asbestos can also harm your lungs even from short term exposure. Even disposing of the dust and materials incorrectly can present a hazard to all those who come across it in the future.
The best way to ensure complete safety is to get a class A certified asbestos removers in. They comply with all laws and regulations, looking after themselves, you, and all future owners of the building. Contact us at Tech Clean for an asbestos removal quote—we can manage the entire process, from testing for asbestos through to removal and disposal. We are class A accredited and will make sure your project is completed correctly, so you, your family, tenants or colleagues remain safe.