• Gary Clarkson

What's all the fuss about? We've been working with it for decades !

It occurs to me that despite spending a lot of time trying to educate our sector around the risks and management requirements around asbestos and asbestos containing material, I have yet to blog about the issues around managing this hazardous substance.

Before I do though, would like to share with you some things from an event put on by the Property Council (Dunedin Branch) at the Dunedin Club this week .

This event was attended by people from the asbestos industry, property managers and representatives from some large organisations around town. The keynote speaker was the New Zealand Demolition and Asbestos Association (NZDAA).

To say it was interesting would be putting it lightly. Some of the main talking points for me were:

There is a safe level of asbestos exposure according to the NZDAA

Whatcha talking about Willis?

This blew me, and many others in the room, away. But apparently there is some recent research out of Australia that we get exposed to huge amounts of asbestos naturally and our bodies deal with it without any problems.

I am actively seeking the reference material and will follow up on this in a future blog.

For now I am with the World Health Organisation who are unequivocal that there is no safe level of exposure.

Professor David Skegg from the University of Otago also made it quite clear on RadioNZ last week that asbestos is the biggest killer in our workplaces.

In New Zealand twice as many people die from Mesothelioma than from Cervical Cancer. Bearing in mind that this does not include Asbestosis and asbestos related lung cancer, those figures are obscene and we should be bloody ashamed.

NZDAA do not believe that removal companies undertaking surveys is appropriate.

This has been an ongoing battle for me for some time now.

We have some players in the removal industry who are doing surveys and then quoting for the removal of what they find.

I have heard a coupe of horror stories resulting in 6 figure sums being spent unnecessarily.

The obvious conflict of interest just doesn't sit well with me, especially given the final talking point from the seminar (below).

It's great that the industry body is making it clear that this is not on and that they are going to pushing this with their members. Hopefully those concerned will take note and cease this questionable practice quickly.

The final point which was raised from the floor was the asbestos industry is ripping people off.

This isn't something I necessarily agree with.

Most of the removal companies I deal with are reputable, professional and good honest kiwi businesses. Yes, there are cowboys in the industry (as with most industries) but hopefully they will be forced out soon by the increasing professionalism we are starting to see.

The fact of the matter is, removing asbestos properly requires large scale investment in the correct tools for the job. Thats why it's so important for business to mange their asbestos problem effectively.

  • It costs tens of thousands of dollars for decontamination units, air handling systems, etc (steer well clear of those companies who don't price for this stuff - it's a must have if the job is to be done correctly).

  • Equipment needs to be checked and independently certified regularly - this is an ongoing overhead if you use this equipemnt.

  • The material which is used to contain the contamination (plastic sheeting, timber framing, etc) can only be used once (although some of the less reputable seem to think it can be cleaned and re-used - you know who you are. So all that stuff you are paying for is disposed of as contaminated waste.

  • Keeping removal staff trained and up-to speed takes time and money and lets be honest, would you fancy doing this dirty dangerous work?

  • The safety equipment the people doing the work (respirators and disposable overalls) isn't cheap and needs to be replaced regularly and often.

So its not a business without significant overheads.

Talk to your removal company and ask them to clarify the reason for their cost. Most of the ones I know are more than happy to give you open book pricing.

And for goodness sake get more than one price and compare them.

Just make sure you compare apples with apples - ask for the specifics of how they will do the job and if necessary get someone like me to review their proposal to make sure it meets the Regulatory requirements.

Following on from the talking points from the seminar I thought I might share some top tips for managing the risk from asbestos in your workplace.

Tip1 - For heavens sake get a survey done!

An asbestos survey is a small investment to make to understand if you have any materials you need to worry about. This information means that you can discharge your legal and moral responsibility to protect people from accidentally exposing themselves and others to asbestos fibres.

There are 2 types of asbestos survey (A Management Survey or a Refurbishment/Demolition survey).

If you are doing major refurbishment or demolition work your survey must be less than 3 month old.

Engage a reputable asbestos professional to do these, not a removal company.

I can recommend the following companies who do a very high standard of work here in the South.

Monnaie Consulting - Their attention to detail and due diligence is fantastic and they offer pragmatic solutions at an affordable price.

Precise Consulting - Precise offer asbestos analysis and testing as well as asbestos surveying solutions.

Tip 2 - Fail to plan, plan to fail !

There is a very good reason that an asbestos management plan is now a statutory requirement.

The asbestos management plan (AMP) is, like your safety plan, the way in which you ensure the safety of your organisation, people and facilities.

Utilising the survey report, the AMP should risk assess each occurrence of asbestos containing material and outline what needs to be done to ensure it is not damaged accidentally and remains safe. (you will notice I didn't say removed - as this isn't always necessary)

Make sure if you are buying an asbestos management plan that the person doing it for you holds a relevant qualification such as the British Occupational Hygienist's Society's BOHS IP405 and has practical hands on experience of managing asbestos in the workplace.

I have invested significant time and money to obtain this qualification to back-up my many years of getting my hands dirty managing this hazardous material. If I can help, you have my number.

Tip 3 - “it is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn't” - Martin van Buren

I have lost count the number of times I have had to deal with people exposed to harm in this way.

Would you have a dentist repair the brakes in your car, or your mechanic fix your teeth?

Of course you wouldn't.

How about letting a builder, plumber, electrician, with no knowledge of asbestos safety, work in your building where they could potentially contaminate your property and affect the health of your employees and customers?

Asbestos awareness training is essential for everyone who works (or who may work) on or around asbestos. Knowledge of asbestos safety protects not only your interests, but the health and welfare of the person doing the job - make sure your contractors have provided their people with the knowledge to work safely.

As you've heard earlier, cleaning up asbestos is not an inexpensive exercise. Make sure the people working in/on your building don't cost you 10's of thousands of dollars and significant disruption to your operation.

Managing asbestos is not a black art. Following the simple tips above will make sure you protect your investment, keep your people safe and comply with your statutory obligations.

Investing time and money now will save you potentially significant cost in the future.

If you need help with any of the issues mentioned above, or just want to shoot the breeze on this or anything else, you know the drill.

In the meantime, stay safe and well my friends.

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