Asbestos Awareness for Business Owners

Identifying Asbestos in Commercial Properties

Asbestos, a term that evokes concern among many, was once a staple in the construction industry, lauded for its fire resistance, strength, and insulating properties. In New Zealand, as in many parts of the world, asbestos was extensively used in commercial buildings until the late 20th century. For business owners, the first step in managing the risk of asbestos is identifying its presence in their properties.

Commercial buildings constructed or renovated before the 2000s are likely to contain asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). These can be found in a number of places, from roofing and insulation to floor tiles and textured coatings. Identifying asbestos in a commercial setting often requires a more nuanced approach than in residential properties, given the scale and complexity of commercial buildings.

The process begins with a thorough inspection conducted by a certified asbestos assessor. This professional will examine all potential ACMs, taking into account the building's age, usage, and any historical renovation records. Samples of suspected materials may be taken for laboratory analysis to confirm the presence of asbestos. It's a meticulous process, but essential for ensuring the safety of employees and customers alike.

Business owners should be proactive in commissioning asbestos surveys, especially before undertaking any renovation or demolition work. Understanding the locations and conditions of ACMs within a property allows for informed decision-making regarding asbestos management, removal, or encapsulation.

Legal Responsibilities and Compliance

In New Zealand, the management of asbestos in commercial properties is governed by the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016. These regulations set forth clear responsibilities for business owners, who are considered Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs). The primary obligation is to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace is safe from the risks associated with asbestos.

PCBUs must have an asbestos management plan (AMP) in place if their building is identified to contain asbestos. This plan outlines how asbestos risks are managed and includes details such as the location of ACMs, the condition of these materials, and procedures for dealing with incidents or emergencies involving asbestos.

Compliance with these regulations is not optional; it's a legal requirement. Failure to comply can result in significant fines and, more importantly, put the health of employees and the public at risk. The WorkSafe New Zealand website provides a wealth of resources and guidance to help PCBUs understand and meet their obligations.

Business owners must also ensure that any work involving asbestos is carried out by licensed asbestos removalists. This includes both the removal of asbestos and any work that may disturb ACMs, such as renovations or repairs. Selecting a qualified and experienced contractor is crucial for ensuring that asbestos is handled safely and in accordance with the law.

The legal landscape surrounding asbestos management underscores the importance of diligence and compliance. By staying informed and proactive, business owners can navigate these responsibilities effectively, ensuring a safe environment for all.

Health Risks and Employee Safety

The paramount concern with asbestos in commercial buildings is the health risk it poses to employees, customers, and anyone else who enters the premises. Asbestos fibres, when inhaled over time, can cause serious diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. These conditions do not manifest immediately but can develop decades after exposure, making asbestos a silent but persistent threat.

For business owners, safeguarding against these risks involves several key steps. First, awareness and education are crucial. Employees should be informed about the presence of asbestos and trained on how to avoid disturbing it. This includes understanding which materials in the building might contain asbestos and the importance of reporting any damage to these materials.

Second, control measures should be implemented to prevent exposure. This might involve encapsulating asbestos-containing materials to prevent fibres from becoming airborne or implementing strict protocols for work that might disturb asbestos. Regular air monitoring can also be an effective way to ensure that asbestos fibres are not present in the workplace environment.

Finally, personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety procedures should be provided for any employees who might come into contact with asbestos. This is particularly relevant for maintenance staff or those involved in renovations. Proper training on the use of PPE and safe work practices is essential to minimise the risk of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Removal and Remediation Strategies

When asbestos is found in a commercial building, deciding on the best course of action—whether to remove, encapsulate, or otherwise manage it—depends on several factors. These include the condition of the asbestos, its location, and the likelihood of disturbance. Professional advice from a certified asbestos assessor and removalist is invaluable in making these decisions.

Removal is often considered the most definitive way to eliminate the risk of asbestos exposure. However, it can also be the most disruptive and costly option. Removal should be prioritised for asbestos that is in poor condition or likely to be disturbed by normal building operations or future renovations.

Encapsulation, on the other hand, involves covering the asbestos-containing material with a sealant that prevents the release of fibres. This can be a more cost-effective and less intrusive option, particularly for asbestos that is in good condition and not likely to be disturbed.

Regardless of the chosen strategy, it's crucial that any work involving asbestos is carried out by licensed professionals. This ensures that the work is done safely and in compliance with New Zealand's strict asbestos management regulations. Business owners should also be aware of the need for ongoing management and re-assessment of asbestos risks, as part of their overall duty of care to employees and the public.

Financial Implications and Support for Businesses

Managing asbestos in commercial properties can be a significant financial undertaking. The costs associated with asbestos surveys, removal, and ongoing management can add up. However, investing in asbestos management is not only a legal requirement but also a crucial investment in the health and safety of employees and customers.

For businesses facing financial challenges in managing asbestos, there may be support available. This can include grants, loans, or subsidies designed to help businesses comply with health and safety regulations. Additionally, tax incentives or deductions might be available for asbestos remediation work.

Business owners should explore all available options for financial support, including consulting with financial advisors or local business support services. It's also advisable to include asbestos management as a line item in the business's budget, planning for both immediate remediation costs and ongoing management expenses.

Asbestos Awareness for Business Owners
Asbestos Awareness for Business Owners

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