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Asbestos and home renovation: what you need to know

By Meika McHardy - 26 Apr 2018

A negligent approach to removing asbestos not only puts you at risk, but also those around you. WorkSafe has identified asbestos as the single biggest cause of death from work-related disease. On average about 170 people die in New Zealand every year from asbestos-related diseases. In April 2016 a two-tiered licensing system was introduced with new regulations to govern the identification, management and safe removal and disposal of asbestos. The transitional period ended on 4 April this year. If you are planning to get work done (that is more than minor or routine maintenance work) on a building built prior to 2000, you must assume that asbestos will be present and be prepared for significant compliance costs.

Houses that were constructed or worked on between 1940 and 2000 are likely to contain asbestos. Asbestos was commonly added to building materials during that time because of its fire, heat, chemical and noise-resistant properties. It was later discovered that it is a carcinogen and causes serious diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Building materials containing asbestos are only harmful when they are disturbed or damaged in some way. That is when dust or fibres are released into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested and consequently become trapped in the body.

Before any work commences the asbestos risk must be investigated. An asbestos survey may even be required as a condition for the grant of a building consent. If asbestos is identified and is going to be disturbed by the work, it will need to be safely removed or at least isolated before work can commence. Removal of more than 10m2 of non-friable asbestos, or any amount of the more dangerous friable asbestos (powdery or easily crumbled) must be done by a licenced asbestos removal company. Once the asbestos is removed, a clearance certificate from an independent expert must be obtained.

Specialist and licenced asbestos companies are likely going to struggle to meet demand for their services and homeowners and builders may face long delays as well as exorbitant costs. These costs, in some cases, could render the renovation project impractical and/or unaffordable.

Unfortunately, either due to a lack of awareness of the law, or deliberate disregard of it, many renovation projects proceed without complying with the law. The potential liability of builders and other people who have obligations under the relevant laws could well see asbestos become the next 'leaky home' type crisis in residential construction.

Anyone who is unsure of their obligations under asbestos laws should get advice to avoid the risk of being sued by an affected party, or prosecuted by WorkSafe (conviction can result in hefty fines).


Meika McHardy

Geoff Hardy


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