March 25, 2019

Canterbury asbestos investigation: No charges to be laid

WorkSafe New Zealand has concluded its investigation into the management of asbestos in the Canterbury Home Repair Programme and has decided not to lay any charges.

WorkSafe launched an investigation earlier this year in response to allegations about the adequacy of the Earthquake Commission and Fletcher EQR’s systems for identifying and managing the hazard of asbestos during the initial stages of the Canterbury rebuild.

WorkSafe’s chief executive, Gordon MacDonald, says that the investigation found that there were some deficiencies in the management of asbestos during the early phases of the Home Repair Programme. However, given what we know about the type of work carried in the Home Repair Programme the risk of harm to workers and residents was very low and prosecution was not justified.

“Exposure to asbestos is a very real occupational health hazard, and one that WorkSafe takes very seriously. That’s why we undertook a thorough investigation of the circumstances.”

That investigation included:

– extensive reviews of EQC and Fletcher EQR documentation, their systems and processes

– interviews with management, contractors and residents

– property inspections and asbestos testing in a limited number of houses – including surface and air testing WorkSafe also contracted independent experts to review research conducted on behalf of Fletcher EQR into breathable fibre release during certain types of repair work

The investigation found there were some deficiencies in the management of asbestos and the process of testing for its presence prior to work beginning during the early phases of the Home Repair Programme. However, the level of asbestos likely to have been released was very low, as was the risk to workers. The risk to residents is likely to have been even lower.

“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. But based on our investigation and expert advice WorkSafe is satisfied the over-all risks from asbestos in the Home Repair Programme have been very low.

“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.

“Over the course of the Home Repair Programme considerable improvements have been made in the way asbestos has been managed by contractors, and WorkSafe and its Canterbury Rebuild Safety Charter partners have worked hard to educate tradespeople and contractors about the occupational health risks asbestos pose.

“Let me be absolutely clear about this; asbestos is not something to be taken lightly and the risks of exposure need to be very carefully managed. WorkSafe will continue to work with all companies involved in the rebuild to ensure that asbestos is managed appropriately – and to ensure the lessons learned in Canterbury are heeded nationwide,” says Gordon MacDonald.

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Canterbury asbestos investigation: No charges to be laid