Asbestos prosecutions highlight room to improve

WorkSafe New Zealand says two recent court cases show Aotearoa still has a long way to get asbestos management right.

Asbestos remains the country’s number one work-related killer, with about 220 people dying each year from preventable asbestos-related disease.

Asbestos Awareness Week runs until 26 November and aims to remind tradies and businesses of the dangers, and how to manage the risks of the known carcinogen.

The latest WorkSafe prosecution involves Wilson Building Timaru Limited. The company was fined last month for the unauthorised removal of asbestos by the company director, which put workers at high risk of asbestos exposure over several days. The company did not seek an asbestos management plan from the building owner at any point. The asbestos should have been removed by a licensed expert.

Earlier in the year, Inspired Enterprises Limited was sentenced over a case of poorly handled flooring containing asbestos. There was no asbestos management plan, and the customer’s quote did not mention the possibility of asbestos.

Both cases highlight concerning gaps that fall well short of best practice.

“In New Zealand, businesses have a responsibility to manage the risks to their workers associated with asbestos,” says the Head of WorkSafe’s General Inspectorate, Tracey Conlon.

WorkSafe requires asbestos management plans to be in place for workplaces where asbestos or asbestos-containing material has been identified or is likely to be present.

“The health consequences seen today are the legacy of historic exposure to asbestos, often while at work. Actions taken today will help prevent yourself, workers and others being harmed by asbestos-related disease in the future,” says Tracey Conlon.

WorkSafe has a broad range of advice and guidance online about managing asbestos-related risks, including what businesses are required to do to manage asbestos exposure risks.

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