• Peter Bateman
    In the Jan/Feb edition of Safeguard magazine we pose three questions based on stories in the magazine. One of them is this:

    Asbestos disease remains far and away the number one work-related killer, yet we certainly don't devote a proportionate effort to tackle it. Are we in some kind of state of denial about it?

    Feel free to respond here on the Forum, or privately here via a Survey Monkey form.

    An edited selection of responses will be published in the March/April edition, but with no names attached. One randomly selected person will receive a prize, namely a copy of the book Mentally Healthy Work in Aotearoa New Zealand, published by WorkSafe NZ.
  • Stuart Keer-Keer
    The code of practice says that you are suppose to have a management plan and renovation survey when doing renovations. The management plan needs to be kept on site. In my experience it is rare for a builder or trades to do this. Even if they know it is a requirement. Often they say my competitors don't why should I add on extra costs.
  • Nancy Robbie
    Interesting topic. The company I work for is a large automotive sales and repair company with multiple sites. We have had asbestos assessments done and only one site contains asbestos for which we do have the plan on file but seeing normally speaking we are not a building company we would only need to worry about it if we do any building modifications. What I did find interesting though is for my Grad Dip studies recently I have been looking into asbestos in auto parts. My research uncovered that asbestos was in the past widely used in mutliple auto parts due to its good heat resistant and insulating properties however is now largely prohibited in Europe and Japan (<0.1%) although in Japan they can still export asbestos but in the USA it is still legal to manufacture parts with asbestos. There are strict rules around it in the USA but it is still allowed. We specify to suppliers that parts are to be asbestos free to protect our technicians doing the servicing where dust from worn brake pads for example could be inhaled. When I checked a box containing new brake pads, and the product info sheet that came with it, there was no information at all about what the brake pads were made of. The info sheet explained how to install the pads but nothing more. Better information on/with products would be very helpful.
  • Steve H
    Asbestos pads used to be the only option for shoe/drum style brakes, back in the day, I was a Service Technician for a materials handling equipment company repairing/maintaining battery electric equipment and always wore a proper respirator style dust mask when replacing brake shoes and did what I could to contain the dust contained in brake drums..

    In your case, many cars etc coming through your sites may have been fitted with brake pads/shoes containing asbestos, I think you have to assume they all do, and plan accordingly. There are a few H&S folk from workshops servicing cars/trucks and other equipment, will be interesting to see their thoughts
  • Nancy Robbie
    Thanks for your reply. I agree, the technicians should be wearing respirators. Glad that you as an ex Service Technician understood the hazard and planned accordingly. Unfortunately our technicians themselves and management don't believe it is an issue and don't want to plan or wear respirators. It is a culture issue that I am hoping to change over time and have started with arranging H&S training for management and hazardous substances training for key staff thus fingers crossed. It would indeed be good to hear what other workshops do. We also have a trucks division thus maintaining high use and wear vehicles i.e. more likely to come in contact with brake and other dusts.
  • Steve H
    We're talking late 1970's-1980's here Nancy, what alerted me to the possible risks of Asbestos was working as an Instrumentation Technician previously, and in the lab I worked at, an older tech had Asbestosis, and warned me to avoid the stuff, or take precautions if contact was unavoidable (heat resistant cabling used asbestos at that time. RIP Steve Hermans,you were a good bugger
  • Craig Carlyle
    We find amongst the business community, an almost total ignorance of the topic, either from an identification or management perspective. Like most topics, rules are worthless without education.
  • Steve H
    Electrical Workers Registration Board have done lots of work in educating electrical workers and their employers on the dangers asbestos poses
  • Nancy Robbie
    totally agree, education is definitely the key but I also find it is hard to educate someone on something they don't want to know about. I find a lot of the older technicians already think they know and think it is all over the top until they get sick but then it is too late. I think targeting the young in their training in all industries on h&s and the hazards specific to their industries to slowly make change is the key. My thoughts anyway.
  • Steve H
    I think targeting the young in their training in all industries on h&s and the hazards specific to their industries to slowly make change is the key.Nancy Robbie

    We saw this in action during the Christchurch EQ rebuild Nancy, Fletchers insistence that their subbies had completed a Site Safe Construction Course saw the young'uns start to shame their elders by wearing/using PPE, gradually and grudgingly the dinosaurs followed.
  • Nancy Robbie
    that is awesome that the young ones are leading the way. Great job Fletchers! In my previous H&S job I worked for a company supplying and installing timber stairs to the construction industry and Fletchers was certainly one of the companies I preferred to deal with due to their proactive and continuous improvement approach to H&S. Sites were generally well managed and the odd time I raised a concern it was dealt with immediately.
  • Chrissy Roff
    Steve H I was interested in your statement that "the EWRB have done lots of work in educating electrical workers and their employers on the dangers asbestos poses", I work for an electrical company with almost 70 sparkies and we have not seen any education from the EWRB around this.
  • Steve H

    Here's some of EWRBs info, the dangers of working with asbestos are discussed on EW bi annual refreshers, so maybe the troops haven't brought that learning back.
  • Rowly Brown
    If your organization has multiple sites around the country I suspect some of them will be in older automotive premises. Harking back to Steve's comment, i.e 1970's - 80's area, bonded asbestos brake pads came wrapped in plastic in cardboard boxes. Occasionally there would be a red sticker on the plastic bag that said "Contains Asbestos". Rarely did the word Danger appear as well. If you poke about in some of the attic storage areas above the workshops I would be mightily surprised if you didn't unearth a box or two of said brake shoes. And when a customer comes in querying whether you would be able to service his vintage / classic vehicle, there will be an old timer still on staff who will relish the chance. And he will have a suspicion there just might be some brake pads and other handy parts stored somewhere! Viola! And the young guys will crowd around to watch / learn.
    Spraying the brake drums with a light oil (diesel) at dis-assembly then wet-wiping out with a detergent soaked rag, disposing of the rag in a sealed & labelled plastic bag was " (best) standard practice at the time. An "Alert" to all workshops, and an audit of all storage areas would be a smart move.

    Chrissy Roff.
    A brother was a Rental Property Manager for a real estate company in a large metropolitan area with a large stock of older rental houses. I eventually provided guidance for him to work with electricians and property maintenance people servicing their portfolio on how to manage the asbestos issues they encountered. Some were aware of where asbestos might be, and what it might look like; most hadn't a clue and were blissfully unaware of the hazards. Asbestos in switchboards is common in older houses and these are unwittingly drilled, sawn, pulled out, tossed aside during re-wiring and upgrading. If electricians haven't had hazard management training in relation to asbestos then they need to be given some. @Stuart Keer-Keer and colleagues did a wealth of this education during the Christchurch Re-build.
  • Nancy Robbie
    thanks for the tips. We are planning a big clean out of the workshop I have the most concerns about thus will keep an eye out on what is 'discovered'.
  • Stuart Keer-Keer
    I find a lot of the older technicians already think they know and think it is all over the top until they get sick but then it is too late.

    I have done over 300 presentations. Doing a presentation is as much entertaining them as well as informing them. Every time I do one I set myself a challenge to keep 100% engagement. So send them along to one of mine, that will be a nice challenge for this old dog.

    Part 17 of the asbestos regulation says if your worker may be involved in asbestos work must be trained.

    reasonably believes may be involved in asbestos removal work or in the carrying
    out of asbestos-related work are trained in the identification and safe handling
    of, and suitable control measures for, asbestos and ACM

    Often I have the comment after the presentations - "you have scared me through and through". Yep that was my goal. They still use asbestos in India. They make car parts in India. Do we have any checks at the boarder to make sure it is not coming in the country?

  • Bill Hackshaw
    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for your view of the "state of denial".

    For 12 years now in NZ we've had cabin overpressure & filtration systems that protect operators in machine and truck cabs from all sorts of contaminated air. In all that time we've only had two machines fitted specifically for protection against airborne asbestos.

    One was for a contractor in Tauranga and one was for an Auckland City Council repair project. We've got customers in landfills, transfer stations, waste-water, livestock feed, fertilizer and other industries, but not asbestos remediation. That industry does not seem to be interested in making the small investment required to keep enclosed machine cabs safe, so we leave them alone.

  • Jason Milner
    Interesting comments from everyone. In my opinion, it is not primarily a state of denial, it is also a state of ignorance for some and a lack of education for others. I agree that trainees starting work for the first time should be better educated in regard to Asbestos Awareness especially as it is New Zealand's number one work-related killer. Whilst HSWA regulations state that workers should have training in regards to relevant risks they will encounter in the workplace I think the guidance in the new upcoming Asbestos ACOP (currently under review) should specifically state that all workers working in buildings built on or before the year 2000 should have mandatory Asbestos Awareness training. Education is paramount to prevent death from asbestos-related diseases as well as bigger fines for companies that do not adhere to asbestos legislation.
  • KeithH
    At the risk of upsetting the apple cart, there are some good ideas here but I do believe the core issue is completely missed.

    The code of practice says that you are suppose to have a management plan and renovation survey when doing renovations. The management plan needs to be kept on site. In my experience it is rare for a builder or trades to do this. Even if they know it is a requirement. Often they say my competitors don't why should I add on extra costs.Stuart Keer-Keer
    Your last sentence comes close to my view. Let me explain.

    My opinion is that it is more to do with business costs and the ability to secure work more than any denial, lack of education, ACOP requirements and such like.

    Small businesses in NZ (those that employ less than 20 people) makes up 97% of the total business in NZ (MBIE and StatsNZ), employ nearly 30% of the workforce (MBIE and StatsNZ) and generate just over 25% of GDP (MBIE and StatsNZ). Interestingly enough, these SMEs employ and average of one and a half people per business.
    The annual surplus for SMEs after deducting average wages/salary but before taxes and expenses is about $42k per person or around $64k per business. Not a lot.

    Comparatively, large businesses that employ more than 20 people have bigger annual surpluses. About $88k per employee and $10.4 mill per business.

    That SMEs average 1.5 employees per business tends to indicate (for me) a lot of sole traders or two/three person bands whereas larger businesses average 119 employees each. And every employee usually has at least a couple of mouths to feed at home.

    So IMHO, given there are so many small businesses (546,000 according to MBIE and StatsNZ), the competition for work is high therefore quotes need to be competitive (you could say cheap is the word). Shortcuts are normally taken to secure work.
    The NZ construction industry framework has changed over the last 30-40 years with the advert of companies specialising in project management. This has created another level in how work is organised. Project managers take an initial cut of the cost. What's left is passed to the main contractor who take their margin, followed by lesser contractors to finally down to the SMEs and there is usually not much left in the pot.

    The charge-out rate for an SME has to be similar or cheaper than their competitors otherwise a business will miss out on the work. And no work can mean no money which can lead to hungry mouths. Shortcuts get taken.

    IMHO I don't believe SMEs are denying there is an issue with asbestos (or silica or asthma or noise or HAV) but are practically applying what they see as limits on what they need to quote for so they can secure work. These businesses may also be aware of the not insignificant costs involved with compliance.

    So from my point of view, the main market H&S is aiming for is the biggest one numerically but the smallest one financially. Maybe it is time to work out how to entice the larger organisations to engage in ethical and moral obligations by investing in their SMEs.

    Just my 2 cents worth.
    SMEs and Large Businesses (432K)
  • Stuart Keer-Keer
    Without a doubt I agree 100%. See the change at working at heights. Everyone puts up scaffolding now. This is because if they don't someone is going to dobb them in. So the culture is everyone puts out edge protection. With asbestos, crystalline silica, noise and wood dust.....a far different story. Oh they know there is a problem.
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