From Current News


NZ bans imports of nearly all products containing asbestos

Imports of products containing asbestos will no longer be allowed, the environment minister says.

The importation of raw asbestos is already banned.

Minister Nick Smith said exposure to asbestos posed a risk of respiratory disease and was the single biggest cause of work-related fatalities, responsible for the deaths of 170 people a year.

An inventory released by the Ministry for the Environment in 2014 shows asbestos is no longer imported for use in buildings or where members of the public are likely to be exposed to it. But it is still imported for a limited number of specialist products, such as gaskets, seals and brake linings.

READ MORE: Probe fails to establish source of asbestos on family’s $800k Christchurch property

“The Government recognises there are a few specialised uses for which there is no practical alternative. For that reason, there is scope to be granted a permit to import – but only in very select circumstances,” Smith said.

“A permit will only be issued if there is genuinely no alternative product available, or if the alternative would be disproportionately expensive. In addition, an importer would have to be able to show that any risk of asbestos exposure can be safely managed.

“I expect the only people or organisations likely to need to import these kinds of products will be very limited and associated with older machinery, and a small number of vintage plane or ship restorers. The Environmental Protection Authority will consider applications for permits case-by-case.”

Mike Bradshaw, of the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust, said there were relatively few pieces of equipment left that contained asbestos. He said it was used on all railway machinery built until the 1920s but was phased out after that.

His organisation had replaced all existing asbestos in its machinery in the 1980s.

Graeme Swan, MTA’s repair sector specialist, said the ban was unlikely to be a problem for the New Zealand automotive sector, either. He said most major manufacturers had stopped using asbestos.

“MTA would support the government in this decision, for the health benefits it would provide.”

The ban will not affect asbestos in existing buildings or products. The existing stock of products containing asbestos is managed through other legislation – primarily the Health and Safety at Work Act regulations – and such products are phased out and safely disposed of as they reach the end of their useful life.

“The decision to ban asbestos-containing products was made this month, and the necessary Orders in Council are currently being drafted. The prohibition will take effect on October 1,” Smith said.

“This ban is part of the Government’s programme of reducing exposure to harmful products. It will bring New Zealand into line with overseas jurisdictions such as Australia, and will save lives.”


Worksafe targets poor asbestos record

WorkSafe is aiming to halve the number of deaths from asbestos, which were 146 last year and average 170 annually, within a decade.

But it will be doing it without any extra money for now from the government, in the face of a building boom and with doubts around Customs’ ability to stop asbestos at the border.

WorkSafe chairperson Gregor Coster said the government’s decision to ban products containing asbestos would be crucial to meeting the target in the agency’s new 10-year workplace health plan.

“We’ve been able to get the support of government to ban the importation of asbestos – that’s been a huge step forwards, that’s never been done in New Zealand before,” said Professor Coster.

The ban on any product containing asbestos would kick in from October, 13 years after Australia. In exceptional circumstances here, an importation permit might be issued.

Three years ago the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety said there was “paralysis” and a gaping data hole around how much illness and death was caused on the job.

Cancer expert Sir David Skegg has previously said this country is “unusually slack” about its controls on asbestos, and plenty of scepticism remains among unions who say fly-by-night builders would still put workers clearing out old asbestos at risk.

The data is still lacking and WorkSafe appears quite slow at filling it in.

Also, while asbestos accounted for the largest single chunk of the estimated 600-900 workplace-related deaths a year, vagueness surrounded the other two thirds.

Lawyer Hazel Armstrong, who has worked for the rail workers’ union, said she foresaw ongoing risk from imported asbestos and WorkSafe would be falling short unless the government stepped up.

“They’ve got to have border controls and they’ve got to equip Customs to check the products that are coming into New Zealand – including things like locomotives, but especially building products,” she said.

Research supported the idea it would be a grind – in a recent survey just 7 percent of construction companies, who are entering a sustained boom time, and fewer than a quarter of manufacturers said they had offered employees any health monitoring in the last 12 months.

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Meth use proves costly for social housing providers in Canterbury

Social housing providers are forking out tens of thousands of dollars to decontaminate properties that have tested positive for methamphetamine residue.

Sixty-five Housing New Zealand (HNZ) properties in the Christchurch, Nelson and Marlborough regions have tested positive for P, and the number of affected houses across the country is increasing.

On average, it costs HNZ more than $14,000 to test and decontaminate each unit.


Residue Testing NZ franchise owner Nicola Clark carries out a preliminary test to determine whether a house has been used for smoking or the manufacture of meth.

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New asbestos regulations hit building owners

New measures to prevent asbestos contamination during renovations and demolitions could prove costly for building owners, but industry leaders say change is well over due.

From 4 April new asbestos regulations come into force under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

Health and safety consultants report a big jump in demand for asbestos surveys of commercial buildings, but they’re also struggling to find suitably qualified staff to do the work.

The original draft regulations included a requirement that all buildings built before 2000 had a register showing where asbestos was located, but Cabinet is awaiting the results of further consultation before it decides whether to make registers compulsory.

Asbestos consultant Mike Cosman​ was a member of a WorkSafe stakeholder advisory group consulted over the new regulations.

They include a two-tier licensing system for the removal of more than 10 square metres of non-friable asbestos, or any amount of the more dangerous friable asbestos (powdery or easily crumbled).

Class A licences will eventually replace existing Certificates of Competence needed to remove the more hazardous material. To date Worksafe has received 457 registrations of interest for Class B licences to remove non-friable material.

Cosman​ said the changes were long overdue because New Zealand had been 20 years behind international best practice when it came to handling asbestos.

“We probably don’t know how bad it’s been because the level of overall surveillance of asbestos removal work has been very very low.”

Cosman ​ said the onus was now on owners to find out if their buildings contained asbestos, and on contractors to ensure their processes were up to scratch.

Intrusive testing might be necessary before refurbishment or demolition could start.

“You might have to make holes in the cladding in order to see what lies behind. It can be very expensive, but not as expensive as not doing the survey, and discovering you have spread asbestos all over your construction site, and have to stop work and clean it up.”

Quenton ​ Dowdell​, managing director of Dowdell​ and Associates occupational health and safety consultants,  said compulsory asbestos registers would put New Zealand on a par with the United States, Britain and Australia.

“The Government owns more properties than anyone so maybe it was a cost exercise, and they realised it was going to impact them more than anyone else.”

Dowdell​ said asbestos survey costs ranged from under $1000 to tens of thousands for multi-story buildings.

He has recruited five British surveyors to meet demand, which had more than doubled in the past year.

Asbestos removal and management company ATL has also been recruiting in Europe and chief executive, Brett Pietersen​, said it was extremely difficult finding sufficient competent staff.

“In our business alone we could hire another three or four surveyors tomorrow and have them busy by the end of the week.”

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New Health and Safety Association Launched

A new umbrella association for workplace health and safety professions in New Zealand has been established. The Health and Safety Association of New Zealand (HASANZ) was launched on 10 September 2014 in Auckland by George Adams, Chair of the Independent Forestry Safety Review and of the Occupational Health Advisory Group set up by WorkSafe NZ.

HASANZ aims to raise professional standards across the occupational health and safety sector to provide healthier and safer workplaces for New Zealanders.

It has been created in response to the findings of the Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety following the Pike River mining disaster. The Government’s resulting Working Safer package of reforms (2013) included a commitment to set up a representative body for health and safety professionals to help prevent serious harm and fatalities at work.

“Business wants clarity on how to deliver against the new accountabilities for workplace health and safety and on occasions where they need external advice, that will entail the ability to identify, select and to trust a professional or a professional organisation,” said George Adams. “Having a well placed and well known and effective body such as HASANZ, which is set up to do just that, will be vital going forward.”

“As an association of associations, HASANZ is a first point of contact for government on workplace health and safety matters and the “go to place” for businesses seeking support and advice,” said HASANZ and NZ Occupational Hygiene Society representative Suzanne Broadbent at the launch.

Founding member organisations include: the Australian/New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of New Zealand, Maintenance Engineers Society of New Zealand, NZ Institute of Hazardous Substances Management, New Zealand Institute of Safety Management, NZ Occupational Health Nurses Association, NZ Occupational Hygiene Society, New Zealand Safety Council, New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists (Occupational Group) and Occupational Therapy New Zealand.

“A step change in workplace health and safety in New Zealand requires us to work more collaboratively and to give as much emphasis to health as to safety,” said HASANZ representative and New Zealand Institute of Safety Management National Manager Tony Rigg. “HASANZ is committed to promoting excellence in workplace health and safety practice.”

A priority is improving access to quality advice for businesses by creating an online register of competent health and safety professionals.

“It’s important that people have confidence in the health and safety advice they receive,” said Tony Rigg. “It’s also important they know where to go for reliable information. Working together with industry and government, HASANZ will enable workplace health and safety professions to provide better guidance and support to employers and workers for the benefit of all New Zealanders.”

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Future of Christchurch rebuild revealed

The future of the Christchurch rebuild has been revealed, with a new agency – called Regenerate Christchurch – overseeing the next phase of the reconstruction.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel have unveiled details of the new plan in Christchurch this morning, which is designed to replace the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act before it expires in April next year.

Regenerate Christchurch will be a joint entity tasked with overseeing the long term development and enhancement of the central city, residential red zone, New Brighton and other potential regeneration zones. It will be the first of its kind in New Zealand.

Mr Brownlee described it as a unique partnership that offered a new way of thinking about how central and local government could operate in the future.

“Christchurch will be leading the way and the rest of New Zealand will look to this partnership as a new way of working.”

Regenerate Christchurch will be jointly owned and funded by the Crown and the Christchurch City Council and will have an independent board, which will report to both the Crown and Council.


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Tests reveal asbestos in New Zealand crayons

Two of New Zealand’s biggest arts and craft retailers have pulled crayons containing asbestos from shelves. The clearout comes after Government testing identified asbestos in three of 21 randomly selected crayon products. However, authorities stress the risk to consumers is expected to be low.

The Warehouse and Warehouse Stationery, owned by The Warehouse Group, removed the contaminated stock from all their stores over the weekend.

“We had a bit of a heads up,” spokeswoman Julia Morton said.

“We pulled it before the testing had been completed.”

The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Environmental Protection Authority and the Ministry for the Environment have been undertaking tests to determine the risks involved with asbestos in crayons, and if the issue was present in New Zealand.

The products confirmed to have asbestos are:

  • Disney – Planes, Fire & Rescue – Double ended crayons
  • Avengers Age of Ultron – 8 Chunky Crayons
  • Art Series – Jumbo Colours 12 Non-Toxic Bright Colours

“The risk assessment of asbestos in crayons as low is based on research undertaken by the United States Consumer Product Safety (CPSC) Commission, which included using simulation testing” a statement from the Ministry of Health said.

The research suggests the asbestos may be used as a binding agent in the crayons, like talc. Talc and asbestos are similar in composition and form in the same locations.

“This can lead to natural cross-contamination and this is believed to be the reason asbestos is being detected in some crayons,” the statement said.

Parents or caregivers with concerns about their crayons were recommended to check with the supplier.

“If you are still concerned we recommend that you stop using the crayons and dispose of them in your rubbish.

“Agencies are in agreement that, while it is currently legal for products to contain asbestos, it is not appropriate for children’s products, such as crayons, to contain asbestos.

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