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November 19, 2018

Asbestos risk 'very low' in quake repairs: Worksafe

Asbestos risk ‘very low’ in quake repairs: Worksafe

CECILE MEIER

Last updated 17:38, December 8 2014

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) failed to manage asbestos risks in earthquake home repairs, a report says.

WorkSafe New Zealand has released its findings from an investigation into EQC’s Canterbury home repair programme, which began in 2011. It found deficiencies but not enough to lay charges because the risks to homeowners and contractors had been “very low”.

The investigation found:

– Prior to June 2012, asbestos was seldom discussed or tested for.

– EQC contractors took waste from repairs to a dump that was not approved for asbestos-contaminated material.

– Within a sample of 35 home repairs, WorkSafe found contractors often started repairs “without [providing] any record of an adequate safety plan”. There were only 12 safety plans in the sample of 35 home repairs.

– Six out of 10 homes tested as part of the investigation contained asbestos. In these houses, repairs had been completed without prior testing.

Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey questioned the findings because 10 homes only had been tested as part of the investigation.

“To hold such firm conclusions after testing on such a small sample seems to be drawing an extremely long bow knowing at least 9000 homes are likely to contain asbestos,”he said.

EQC chief executive Ian Simpson defended his organisation, saying EQC prioritised the “most pressing needs” of Cantabrians after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. 


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The investigation was inconclusive about how many houses were tested but found testing had been insufficient, especially in the programme’s first year.

EQC’s safety system had been inadequate and lacked monitoring and feedback processes. The report said poor management of asbestos risk may have extended to quality management of the repairs.

It also said EQC had not sought clarification of the potential risks before deciding this year not to retrospectively test repaired homes. No clear reason for this decision was provided, the report found.

However, experts said overall the risks associated with the type of repair work being carried out was “unlikely to cause any asbestos-related deaths”. 

Simpson said the research found even in a worst-case scenario, the risks did not reach a level where a single worker could be expected to develop mesothelioma or lung cancer. 

“Our priority was to get people into safe and warm homes as soon as possible.

“We focussed first on removing potentially lethal hazards such as unstable chimneys, providing or repairing heating before the onset of winter, and ensuring homes were weather tight.”

Contractors had been required to manage health and safety risks on site – including asbestos – from the start of the programme, he said. 

The independent research cited in the WorkSafe report was commissioned by Fletcher EQR and conducted by Australian health risk consultants Greencap NAA. WorkSafe’s experts reviewed this research as part of its investigation.


– The Press

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Asbestos risk 'very low' in quake repairs: Worksafe

Asbestos checks urged


Retrospective asbestos checks urged


MARC GREENHILL

Last updated 05:00 06/06/2014

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A Fletcher EQR contractor is calling for retrospective asbestos testing of earthquake-damaged homes repaired before mandatory checks were brought in.

Bruce West, an accredited EQR repairer since 2011, criticised the home repair programme’s asbestos testing regime in an open letter to the Earthquake Commission (EQC), Fletcher EQR and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

He was concerned that testing of homes built between 1940 and 1990, in which asbestos could be present in lathe and plaster, flooring, soffits, roofing and exterior cladding, did not become mandatory until June 2012.

His fear was “thousands” of repairs had been completed without testing, “with around 12,000 workers, together with occupants of repaired homes potentially exposed to unidentified or uncontained asbestos hazards in those properties”.

West’s suspicions were further aroused when a Fletcher EQR memo announcing the mandatory testing, sent to contractors on June 25, 2012, was dated January 15, 2011.

He wanted all homes meeting the risk criteria to be “urgently” tested for asbestos by an independent authority, and for Fletcher EQR to be immediately suspended until its methods were “comprehensively audited”.

West told The Press that checking work completed before June 2012 should have been an “obvious priority”.

“If you’re that concerned with ongoing work, then you should be equally concerned with the work that’s already been performed,” he said.

“There’s no reason for it not to be done, other than the inconvenience and expense to EQC and Fletcher, but then they should have thought of that earlier.”

West said he was aware asbestos could be found in stipple ceilings, soffits and garage linings, but not lathe and plaster.

He had not considered the risks because the pace of the work programme meant he “had to just get on with it”.

West accepted the onus was on contractors to understand risks on their building site, but felt EQR should have given asbestos greater emphasis.

He said he was surprised, given Fletcher’s construction experience, that testing had not been mandatory “since day one”.

EQC business services manager David Lowe said a guideline on managing asbestos was issued in January 2011.

Until June 2012, contractors were required to arrange testing for all houses assessed as potentially containing asbestos.

The mandatory testing introduced in June 2012 was “well in excess of the legal minimums”, he said.

“The improvements made over the life of the programme make [the home repair programme] one of the best examples of asbestos investigation and management in New Zealand.”

The memo dated January 2011 that West had received was an error “possibly due to incorrect completion of an automated memo template”, Lowe said.

West was not convinced the date on the memo was a mistake. “The memo was obviously meant to be a big deal and issued on that date, but it wasn’t,” he said.


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– The Press


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Asbestos checks urged

Manager slated for sending 'sexy' asbestos email


‘Sexy’ asbestos email sent by Cera manager


NICOLE MATHEWSON

Last updated 05:00 06/06/2014

VIOLET KRUMBEIN/YouTube

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority staff member sent contractors a link to this “very inappropriate” YouTube video

Tim Pow

Stacy Squires/Fairfax NZ

‘POOR TASTE’: The link to the “inappropriate” video was sent by Cera residential red zone operations manager Tim Pow.

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A Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) staff member sent contractors a link to a ”very inappropriate” YouTube video, depicting a fictional woman who wants to meet asbestos workers for sex before they die of cancer.

The video clip, titled Asbestos Girl, features a woman talking to an asbestos worker in a bar about how people in his profession are brave ”because you know you’re going to die of mesothelioma”.

Mesothelioma is a rare fatal cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdominal cavity and can be caused by asbestos, a known carcinogen.

The link to the video was sent to about 40 Cera contractors by Cera residential red zone operations manager Tim Pow on Friday.

Pow’s email included the message: ”Now who said Asbestos was not the game to be in.”

The woman in the clip says: ”I’m just asking you to come back to my house, sniff some sealant and remove my asbestos – you know, have sex – before you die of mesothelioma.”

A Christchurch contractor, who did not want to be named, said the video was ”in very poor taste” and the email had caused outrage among its recipients.

New Zealand Demolition and Asbestos Association executive member Helina Stil said the email was ”pretty strange”.

”They think it’s all funny and stuff like that, but actually it’s not. It’s detrimental to what we’re trying to achieve as women, but it’s also detrimental to the industry as a whole.” She told Cera on Monday that the email was ”disappointing”.

”Tim is a really really nice guy but in this instance, the email was inappropriate.”

Stil was concerned that the email also appeared to make light of the fact asbestos was a highly dangerous substance, particularly following criticism last week about how it had been handled during Canterbury’s earthquake rebuild.

”I think it’s actually very, very poor timing and very, very poor taste.”

Cera chief executive Roger Sutton said the email intended to give people a laugh ”but in reality it was just dumb”.

”The content has caused offence to some, and to anyone that has been offended, I apologise on behalf of Cera.”

Cera was a strong supporter of women working in the rebuild, and about half of its senior leaders were women, along with 64 per cent of its fixed-term and seconded staff, he said.

Cera also treated asbestos management ”very seriously” and had strict requirements in place for contractors dealing with the substance at Crown-owned properties.

Sutton said Cera would be reminding staff of its policies and expectations for the use of work email.


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– The Press

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Manager slated for sending 'sexy' asbestos email

Quake victim not told about asbestos for three months

Quake victim not told about asbestos for three months

Published: 6:19AM Saturday February 15, 2014 Source: ONE News

A Christchurch homeowner is outraged that positive results from asbestos testing at his home were not passed on to him until months after they were available.

The slip-up has been slammed by health officials and has drawn an apology from those responsible.

Tom Davies has lived in his now “badly damaged” home through almost 13,000 earthquakes.

But until recently he was unaware that he did so with the threat of deadly asbestos right above him. He showed ONE News where his ceiling was drilled for asbestos tests.

EQR, who manage Earthquake Commission repairs, ordered testing in October last year. Documents show that the positive results were known on October 22 and the information was forwarded to EQR the following day.

“One would’ve thought that if there is asbestos in the property, or asbestos in the area, that they would tell you immediately,” Mr Davies says.

They didn’t, and in fact Mr Davies was not told until January 27, three months after the results were known.

“They should be getting in touch with them promptly and offering them options to move out,” says Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health.

In a statement, Fletchers EQR admit that there was an error in communication. They say it is their policy to contact homeowners as quickly as possible. However they deny that there was any heightened risk to occupants.

Experts are advising Mr Davies not to take any chances, until he’s sure his home is safe.

“My advice and our advice always to anyone living in a home where there is friable asbestos is get out as fast as you can,” says Dr Humphrey.

Mr Davies is not sure his insurance company would pay for him to move.



I am paying a mortgage on this house. Could I afford a rental on top of a mortgage? I’m not sure that I could just at the moment.”

The long-term future for the house is looking better with the asbestos scheduled to be removed.

The long term effect on Tom Davies’ health, however, remains to be seen.

    Copyright © 2014, Television New Zealand Limited. Breaking and Daily News, Sport & Weather | TV ONE, TV2 | Ondemand

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    Quake victim not told about asbestos for three months

    Canterbury can't be left with asbestos legacy – Dyson

    Labour’s Canterbury Earthquake Recovery spokesperson Ruth Dyson has renewed a call for an asbestos register in light of major concerns about future exposure.

    It follows meetings between building industry leaders from New Zealand and Australia in Christchurch this week to discuss the dangers asbestos poses in the rebuild.

    “It is estimated that asbestos in the ceilings of at least 4000 earthquake damaged homes has been encased behind plasterboard rather than being removed.

    “Current property owners know what’s in their ceilings, but there is no onus on them to notify future owners.

    “Workshops are being held for contractors handling asbestos but that doesn’t help future do-it-yourselfers.

    “It is a potentially lethal substance. To ignore the risk it poses is negligence at its worst.

    “A register to identify all houses which have encased asbestos should be set up and any properties on the list should remain on it until the asbestos has been removed.

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    Canterbury can't be left with asbestos legacy – Dyson

    Specialists to handle asbestos issue


    Specialists to clear Tuam St asbestos


    GEORGINA STYLIANOU

    Last updated 05:00 21/11/2013

    tuam st

    DEAN KOZANIC

    The demolition of the old Christchurch City Council offices in Tuam Street has begun.

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    Asbestos will be removed from the former Christchurch civic building in Tuam St while a neighbouring site continues to be dampened down after contamination hot spots were identified.

    The multi-storey building was occupied by the Christchurch City Council from 1980 until 2010 and was recently sold to the Central Christchurch Development Unit as the land is earmarked for the new inner-city bus interchange.

    Earlier this month, preliminary testing of an adjoining vacant site identified isolated traces of asbestos in the soil between Lichfield St and Struthers Lane.

    Ceres New Zealand was awarded the demolition contract for the Tuam St building and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) is managing the project. A Cera spokeswoman yesterday confirmed the building contained the potentially lethal substance as well as lead-based paint.

    “That will have to be disposed of properly too,” she said.

    Both hazards were “normal things” expected of many buildings constructed before the mid-1980s.

    Specialists would be handling the removal of all hazardous substances, she said.

    Meanwhile, an asbestos investigation had been conducted on the vacant land and the report was due back this week.

    Staff would then be able to decide how to remediate the land, she said, but in the meantime sprinklers continued to keep the site damp to minimise dust.


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    – © Fairfax NZ News


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    Specialists to handle asbestos issue

    Asbestos policy review could save lives


    Asbestos policy review could save lives


    GEORGINA STYLIANOU

    Last updated 05:00 20/11/2013

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    An EQC policy of covering up asbestos in hundreds of quake-damaged Canterbury homes could be overhauled by the Government amid concerns about serious health risks.

    Government officials have previously raised concerns about the way asbestos is being handled in post-earthquake Canterbury, but say the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Bill next month will make guidelines more clear for construction workers.

    Staff from WorkSafe – the new health and safety regulator – were in Christchurch yesterday and told The Press it would be naive to think there would not be asbestos-related illnesses in the future.

    The Earthquake Commission (EQC) has previously said up to 43,000 Christchurch homes due for quake repairs could contain the potentially fatal substance.

    It estimated that in 10 per cent of cases, asbestos found in ceilings or walls was encased behind plasterboard, instead of being removed.

    A Fletcher spokesman said about 15 to 16 per cent of houses that tested positive for asbestos were being encased.

    The chairman of the WorkSafe establishment board, Gregor Coster, believed the encasement policy should be “reconsidered carefully” because it posed serious health risks in the future.

    “An electrician might be rewiring a house and is put at risk and this is not what we should be doing in terms of managing health and safety,” he said.

    An EQC spokesman yesterday said if there were any changes to regulations it would comply.

    Coster said contractors across the region needed to be better at testing for asbestos.

    “The truth of the matter is I am concerned about the potential exposure . . . particularly during that early demolition phase,” he said.

    Geoffrey Podger, the acting chief executive of the WorkSafe establishment unit, said only a certain percentage of asbestos breaches in the city were identified.

    “Our inspectors can’t be everywhere, but equally if everyone could carry out their legislative duties, they wouldn’t need to be,” he said.

    MBIE health and safety inspector Steve Moran said the influence of big project management firms – including Arrow International and Fletcher – was having a “huge effect in lifting the performance of smaller companies”.

    Canterbury District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey, who has been fighting for EQC to review its encasement policy since 2011, said it would have been cost-effective and logical to remove asbestos from houses when repairs were being done.

    He urged the Government to follow in the footsteps of Australia and make a commitment to remove asbestos.


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    However, it was good news the policy could be reviewed.

    “The Christchurch community and the New Zealand population will reap the benefits of [WorkSafe and MBIE’s] courage,” Humphrey said.

    – © Fairfax NZ News

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    Asbestos policy review could save lives

    Encasing asbestos a 'serious future health risk'


    Encasing asbestos a ‘serious future health risk’


    GEORGINA STYLIANOU

    Last updated 09:03 20/11/2013

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    An EQC policy of covering up asbestos in hundreds of quake-damaged Canterbury homes could be overhauled by the Government amid concerns about serious health risks.

    Government officials have previously raised concerns about the way asbestos is being handled in post-earthquake Canterbury, but say the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Bill next month will make guidelines more clear for construction workers.

    Staff from WorkSafe – the new health and safety regulator – were in Christchurch yesterday and told The Press it would be naive to think there would not be asbestos-related illnesses in the future.

    The Earthquake Commission (EQC) has previously said up to 43,000 Christchurch homes due for quake repairs could contain the potentially fatal substance.

    It estimated that in 10 per cent of cases, asbestos found in ceilings or walls was encased behind plasterboard, instead of being removed.

    A Fletcher spokesman said about 15 to 16 per cent of houses that tested positive for asbestos were being encased.

    The chairman of the WorkSafe establishment board, Gregor Coster, believed the encasement policy should be “reconsidered carefully” because it posed serious health risks in the future.

    “An electrician might be rewiring a house and is put at risk and this is not what we should be doing in terms of managing health and safety,” he said.

    An EQC spokesman yesterday said if there were any changes to regulations it would comply.

    Coster said contractors across the region needed to be better at testing for asbestos.

    “The truth of the matter is I am concerned about the potential exposure . . . particularly during that early demolition phase,” he said.

    Geoffrey Podger, the acting chief executive of the WorkSafe establishment unit, said only a certain percentage of asbestos breaches in the city were identified.

    “Our inspectors can’t be everywhere, but equally if everyone could carry out their legislative duties, they wouldn’t need to be,” he said.

    MBIE health and safety inspector Steve Moran said the influence of big project management firms – including Arrow International and Fletcher – was having a “huge effect in lifting the performance of smaller companies”.

    Canterbury District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey, who has been fighting for EQC to review its encasement policy since 2011, said it would have been cost-effective and logical to remove asbestos from houses when repairs were being done.

    He urged the Government to follow in the footsteps of Australia and make a commitment to remove asbestos.


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    However, it was good news the policy could be reviewed.

    “The Christchurch community and the New Zealand population will reap the benefits of [WorkSafe and MBIE’s] courage,” Humphrey said.

    THE FACTS

    WorkSafe, the new health and safety regulator, will be up and running on December 16.

    The health and safety functions from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) will transfer to WorkSafe.

    The Health and Safety at Work Bill will be introduced into the House next month and will replace The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. It will be based on Australian law. The new law and key supporting regulations are expected to be in place by the end of 2014 and will start coming into effect in 2015.

    EQC has never provided figures on how many homes have had asbestos encased.

    In 2011, 143 people in New Zealand were diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions, including mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos.

    Five investigations into breaches of asbestos regulations are under way and the Government has laid charges after an investigation into asbestos exposure at Christchurch Hospital earlier this year.

    – © Fairfax NZ News


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    Encasing asbestos a 'serious future health risk'

    Asbestos find at QEII closes track


    Asbestos find at QEII closes track


    Asbestos found at quake-battered complex

    CAROLINE KING

    Last updated 17:50 16/05/2013

    qe2 landscape

    Stacy Squires

    GONE: The demolished Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, pictured late last year.

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    Asbestos has been unearthed at Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, but the risk of anyone having been exposed to the material is minimal.

    A Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) spokeswoman said a small amount of asbestos piping was found buried at the site this week during the demolition of the earthquake-damaged complex.

    Asbestos was noted in the original plans for the site and was addressed in the demolition, but the discovery was unexpected, she said.

    The piping is in the form of small broken-pipe pieces and may have been offcuts of pipes buried when the complex was built in the 1970s.

    Some areas near where the piping was unearthed will be closed to allow environmental testing as a precaution.

    The closure includes a public walking track, despite it not being close to where the piping was found.

    “This is to ensure none of the potentially affected debris has been inadvertently moved, and if so, it can be contained,” the spokeswoman said.

    Workers were not believed to have been exposed to the asbestos.

    “There are strict rules around what workers do if they see what they even vaguely suspect to be material with asbestos in it, so the risk of any exposure to anyone at any stage is considered extremely minimal,” she said.

    Results from the environmental testing will be known by the end of next week.

    The demolition of the complex is complete.


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    – © Fairfax NZ News


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    Asbestos find at QEII closes track