February 23, 2019

Fletcher defends Christchurch quake repair programme

Management problems which potentially exposed workers to asbestos early in the Christchurch rebuild may also have left homeowners open to bad repair work, a report says.

A WorkSafe New Zealand investigation into the mismanagement of asbestos in Canterbury was released publicly for the first time yesterday after an Official Information Act request from 3 News.

The report, which was completed in October, found serious deficiencies in the way the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and Fletcher EQR handled asbestos repairs, with workers unaware of the risk and potentially exposed to low levels of the dangerous substance during 2011 and 2012.

The probe focused on the Canterbury Home Repair Programme (CHRP), an EQC initiative to repair thousands of homes in Christchurch with quake damage claims between $15,000 to $100,000.

Investigators found contractors rarely discussed or tested for asbestos prior to June 2012, and may have carried out work on houses with dangerous materials without testing the air.

A series of inspections also found mismatches between work records provided by Fletcher and the actual repairs visible in a number of homes, sparking wider concerns about the rebuild.

The report says asbestos management systems failed in the early stages of the rebuild and asks whether the failures continued across repair work more widely.

“It was noted a good quality management system should have detected mismatches between [Fletcher’s] records and repairs apparent on inspection,” the report reads.

“This suggests poor performance may have extended beyond asbestos management to quality management of the repairs.”

The report doesn’t detail the discrepancies and WorkSafe NZ wouldn’t elaborate yesterday, but a Fletcher spokesperson described the observation as a “one-off comment”.

“We would not agree with it,” he said. “It’s a comment that suddenly leaps out of being a report about asbestos management and lands in being a report about quality management.”

The spokesperson, who did not want to be named, said there were a “range of things” which could explain the inconsistencies as repair work sometimes deviates from the paper, where practical.

“It doesn’t tell you anything about quality because so many things changed with many [of the] repairs,” he said. “[For some people] a heck of a lot changed between the earthquakes, the initial inspection and the commencement of repairs.

“You’re asking me if this is an endemic problem, and if this suggests a widescale quality problem, and my answer is no. It’s a whole range of things, and [the evidence] doesn’t actually suggest that.”

Fletcher admitted some repairs wouldn’t be up to scratch, but that thousands of homes had been repaired since 2010 and some discontent was inevitable.

“Could you do 70-odd thousand home repairs using the existing contractor force and workforce without any quality problems? It’s a rhetorical question, but we both know what the answer is.”

Satisfaction surveys carried out by EQC since mid-2013 show around 80 to 85 percent of homeowners are happy with their repairs, the spokesperson said.

“My understanding of the historical satisfaction with home renovation and repair type activities is in general it’s quite a bit lower than that.

“Sometimes it’s not about the repairs, it’s the difference between people’s expectations and what they’re entitled to and all sorts of things like that.”

Contractors dumped hazardous waste

WorkSafe NZ also found waste from repairs may have been taken to landfills which were not approved to handle asbestos.

Investigators spoke to a number of contractors and supervisors from 35 “homes of interest”‘ during the probe and discovered many were unfamiliar with Fletcher’s policies on asbestos.

Overall they found site safety plans were seen as a “mere formality” by contractors during the early years of the CHRP, with understanding about the need for asbestos testing varying significantly.

Testing was not seen as mandatory until June 2012 and waste from repairs may have been taken to unapproved dumps.

WorkSafe NZ said it was not possible to know how much had been dumped as the material was not identified at the time.

“While all asbestos waste should be disposed of at an approved refuse site, dump operators will be well aware of the risks associated with the unapproved disposal of hazardous materials,” a spokesperson said.

“The identification and management of asbestos, which would include disposal of waste, has improved over the course of the Canterbury Home Repair Programme.”

Many contractors and supervisors refused to be interviewed for the report, with only 60 percent of lead contractors and 46 percent of Fletcher’s contract supervisors participating.

Failings, but no prosecution

Overall, investigators found a number of serious failings but decided not to prosecute.

The report stresses that the errors happened during the tumultuous activity which followed the Christchurch quakes and says the CHRP improved its systems over time.

“Its shortcomings may be attributable in part to the unprecedented nature of the CHRP, which required systems to be developed on the fly,” it reads.

“The CHRP as time proceeded appears to have contributed to the substantial rise in awareness of asbestos risks within the Canterbury rebuild.”

The most significant failings occurred in 2011 and 2012, with improvements from June 2012.

A sample of 35 home repairs, taken between May 2011 and May 2013, found contractors regularly failed to complete documentation and work was often allowed to proceed without a safety plan.

Only 12 of the sampled contractors filed a report and all failed to specify how the work would be safely carried out.

Fletcher failed to catch the inconsistences in almost all of the reports, and contractors were confused about their responsibilities. Some blamed Fletcher for failing to provide policy and accused of the company of avoiding tests due to cost, which the company denies.

Investigators later identified 35 “homes of interest” but were only able to inspect 10, and found six were home to asbestos-containing material, which contractors had failed to identify.

Only one contained traces of asbestos, likely left behind by a poor clean-up.

Health risk ‘minimal’

The report cites a number of experts who believe the risk to public health is minimal, despite the failings outlined by investigators.

An independent group, Noel Arnold and Associates, was commissioned to consider the risks of asbestos in the CHRP and found individual exposures were well below the workplace exposure standards – an average concentration of one fibre per millimetre of air every four hours.

Its work examined the risks of dry scraping a stippled ceiling, which accounts for around 80 percent of asbestos repairs in the CHRP. Other dangerous work, including plaster repair, is believed to pose a smaller risk.

“They modelled the risks using a worst-case scenario of exposure and time and did not reach a level where a single worker can be expected to develop mesothelioma or lung cancer,” the report reads.

“Testing results… showed that the levels of airborne asbestos was negligible, and that with one exception there was no asbestos residue in the homes.”

The report found the risk to homeowners was extremely small but also highlighted that the “range of individual susceptibility to hazardous and toxic substances is wide”, saying it is possible for some people to experience discomfort or illness below the exposure standards.

3 News

Original post: 

Fletcher defends Christchurch quake repair programme

Parts of US Capitol closed after asbestos accident

WASHINGTON (AP) — An accident involving asbestos work forced a temporary closure of the House side of the Capitol on Thursday and prompted House leaders to delay the day’s session for two hours.

No injuries were reported. The incident occurred around 2:30 a.m. or 3 a.m., Capitol Police said.

A handful of workers were removing insulation containing asbestos from around pipes and valves on the building’s fourth floor, above a staircase, said a congressional official who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

On-site samples and another sample analyzed by an outside lab revealed low enough asbestos levels that officials decided the building was safe to reopen, the official said. Those samples revealed levels similar to what is found in typical buildings in Washington, said the official, who did not provide any figures.

By midmorning, most of the building had reopened and Capitol tours on the House side had resumed. The Senate, at the other end of the 751-foot-long building, seemed unaffected by the incident.

The East Grand Staircase, which runs from the first floor to the third floor inside the House side of the building, was blocked off and more than a dozen workers and officials spent much of the day examining the area. Also closed was the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Room, a third-floor room near that staircase that was named for the late speaker and Massachusetts Democrat.

The House began the day’s session at noon instead of 10 a.m. because of “an industrial accident,” according to a statement from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Even so, by midmorning a handful of tourists was sitting in the visitors’ gallery, observing an otherwise empty chamber.

The Senate began its session as scheduled at 10 a.m.

The office of the architect of the Capitol said in a statement that engineers and certified industrial hygienists had decided the building was safe to reopen and that the staircase would remain closed indefinitely.

Construction of the main, center section of the Capitol began in 1793 and was finished in 1826.

As the country grew and more lawmakers joined Congress, a south wing for the current House chamber and a north wing for the Senate were built. Both were completed in 1868, along with a new, larger dome.

The architect’s office has been repairing decaying plaster throughout the building. It has also started preparations for a project to repair the 8.9 million pound, cast iron dome.


Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

Originally from – 

Parts of US Capitol closed after asbestos accident