March 19, 2019

No prosecutions in Chch asbestos investigation

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

An investigation into how asbestos was managed in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake has found some deficiencies but no reason to prosecute anyone.

WorkSafe New Zealand has completed its review of asbestos management in the Canterbury Home Repair Programme.

WorkSafe launched the inquiry earlier this year after allegations surfaced about possible inadequacies in the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and Fletcher EQR’s systems for identifying and managing asbestos hazards during early stages of the Canterbury rebuild.

Gordon MacDonald, WorkSafe chief executive, said the investigation did find some deficiencies in the management of asbestos during early parts of the Home Repair Programme.

However, WorkSafe said the risk of harm to workers and residents was very low and prosecution was not justified. The risk to residents was likely to have been even lower, WorkSafe said.

“Given the scale of work in Canterbury it’s inevitable there were instances where work was not up to best practice and our investigation did identify shortcomings with the management of asbestos,” Mr MacDonald said.

“It has to be remembered that in the weeks and months after the Canterbury earthquakes there was an incredible amount of work done – both demolitions and emergency repairs. People and organisations were stretched and conditions were far from ideal,” he added.

Mr MacDonald said contractors had significantly improved the way they managed asbestos. He said WorkSafe and its Canterbury Rebuild Safety Charter partners had also educated tradespeople and contractors about health risks asbestos posed.

WorkSafe said the investigation included reviews of EQC and Fletcher EQR documentation, their systems and processes. It also included interviews with management, contractors and residents.

Investigators also carried out property inspections and asbestos testing in a few houses – including surface and air testing.

WorkSafe said it also hired independent experts to review research conducted on behalf of Fletcher EQR into breathable fibre release during certain types of repair work.


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No prosecutions in Chch asbestos investigation

Asbestos found at Lincoln University

A Lincoln University building has been shut down after a concerned staff member took a swab of some dust which returned a positive test for asbestos.

The university is now working with “anxious” staff after the hazardous substance discovery was made last month in the 60-year-old Riddolls Building.

The Canterbury District Health Board has been called in and several more tests, checks, and cleans have been carried out.

Murray Dickson, the university’s group manager corporate services, say they now have been cleared of danger, but staff can enter now only under strict restricted access conditions.

After the devastating earthquakes, several large university buildings were deemed too unsafe to occupy and staff and students were moved to other buildings across the campus.

The Riddolls Building was renovated, and Mr Dickson said that university records showed that there was asbestos in the building, which was built in 1952.

“It was taken very seriously and all procedures were followed before we moved in,” Mr Dickson said.

Science labs and associated work spaces, including chillers, were moved in.

But he believes that stormy weather which struck the region last last month caused some asbestos dust to emerge.

A concerned staff member took some dust samples in the building, which Mr Dickson said they were encouraged to do in such circumstances.

As a precautionary measure, the building was shut down while they awaited the results.

Canterbury District Health Board were sent three samples on July 17, it confirmed yesterday.

Two came back positive for Chrysotile (white asbestos) and one contained both Crysotile and Amosite (brown asbestos).

On July 22 and 23, CDHB community and public health technical officers visited the site and took two more bulk samples.

One of the two bulk samples are positive for white asbestos.

The university’s ‘spill response team’ carried out clean-up operations on advice from community and public health.

On August 19, the university sent six samples for testing, and only one sample contained brown asbestos, a CDHB spokeswoman confirmed.

“We’ve done a lot of remedial work and blocked off some gaps between rooms and ceiling spaces, where dust may have come from,” Mr Dickson said.

“We’ve now got full clearance. There hasn’t been an airborne sample that we haven’t had a clearance from.”

Staff are entering the building under restricted access, he said.

“It’s obviously an emotive topic and one which some staff are anxious over, and some are not.

“We’re working with staff and want to make them happy and satisfied. We’re comfortable with what we’ve done.”

Asbestos exposure can lead to breathing difficulties or cancer but symptoms may not become apparent for decades.

Mr Dickson wasn’t aware of any staff, or contractors who had been doing work on the building, as having undergone medical tests to check if their lungs have been affected by the killer dust.

But he urged anyone with concerns to notify the university, whose alumni includes All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, mountaineer Mark Inglis, and double Victoria Cross winner and war hero, Charles Upham.

Fletcher Building’s Winstone Wallboards unit has temporarily closed a plasterboard factory in Christchurch after finding traces of asbestos in the building.

The company was told of the discovery on Monday by an external testing agency and has closed the entire site as a precautionary measure to allow for more testing.


By Kurt Bayer Email Kurt

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Asbestos found at Lincoln University