WorkSafe urges better awareness of asbestos risks

Asbestos exposure kills more than 200 people a year. It’s time to do better, WorkSafe and partners say

WorkSafe urges better awareness of asbestos risks

Employers and tradespeople are being cautioned to take greater care to guard against workplace exposure to deadly asbestos.

WorkSafe New Zealand issued the warning this week in partnership with the New Zealand Demolition & Asbestos Association and the Faculty of Asbestos Management of Australia and New Zealand.

More than 200 deaths each year are attributed to exposure to asbestos, according to WorkSafe.

"It's our number one work-related killer, with around 220 people dying each year from preventable asbestos-related disease," said WorkSafe CEO Phil Parkes in a news release. "What we're seeing today is the legacy of past exposure to asbestos, often while at work."

Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral that can cause lung diseases, such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, in people when they are exposed to it for an extended period.

The danger of being exposed to asbestos is well understood, with a code of practice for employers regarding the management and removal of asbestos in the workplace.

But Helina Stil, president of the New Zealand Demolition & Asbestos Association, said that asbestos continues to be a risk, as so many houses, buildings, and machines used asbestos-containing materials in the past.

Poor work practices, insufficient identification of hazards prior to works, and disregard for health and safety are also contributing to the risk of asbestos exposure, according to the Faculty of Asbestos Management of Australia and New Zealand.

Call to employers

WorkSafe, NZDAA, and FAMANZ are calling on employers to better reduce and manage the risk of asbestos exposure to employees in the workplace.

"The dangers of asbestos exposure have been widely known for decades, and it's important that businesses and tradies manage the risk appropriately. All kaimahi (workers) have the right to be kept healthy and safe at work," Parkes said. "Businesses must manage the risks from asbestos to keep people healthy and safe."

Stil added that businesses should identify and appropriately address asbestos as "any other health and safety risk," while Bridgette Jennings, director of FAMANZ, urged employers to hire professionals when it comes to surveying, removing, and assessing asbestos.

"Quality must come first to ensure all reasonably practical steps are taken to protect people now and prevent more deaths in the future," Jennings said.

An Asbestos Sector Review, commissioned by the NZDAA and reported by Radio New Zealand, reported a "generally low" level of asbestos awareness in the wider construction sector.

 

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