February 23, 2019

Asbestos risk 'very low' in quake repairs: Worksafe

Asbestos risk ‘very low’ in quake repairs: Worksafe


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