WasteMINZ has just released a set of new guidelines on handling asbestos. Paul Evans alerts councils to their responsibilities.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once commonly used in building construction and insulation for its desirable physical properties, including strength, affordability and resistance to heat and fire.
Asbestos is dangerous when its fibres become airborne and are respirable. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious and fatal illnesses such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Despite the negative health effects being well known since the mid-20th century, and the severity of these asbestos-related diseases, the material is still pervasive in New Zealand’s built environment.
As such, in this country, asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACM) are regularly collected, transported and received at refuse transfer stations and disposed of at landfills. Workers who are involved with these activities need to know how to identify asbestos or ACM and manage the material to prevent the fibres becoming airborne.
The Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 (Asbestos Regulations) impose requirements on persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) and others in relation to work involving asbestos.
As local authorities often own refuse transfer stations and landfills (or manage contractors who run these facilities on their behalf), they have responsibilities for the workers at these facilities.
Unfortunately, the Approved Code of Practice: Management and Removal of Asbestos (2016) (ACOP) does not cover the collection and disposal of asbestos waste. Therefore, in mid-2017, WasteMINZ formed a working group, with a broad cross-section of industry participants, to lead the development of guidance to address these gaps.
The Waste industry guidelines to manage the collection, receipt, transport and disposal of asbestos waste were finalised, after an extensive consultation process, and published in January 2019.
The guidelines address collection of pre-wrapped asbestos waste from a customer’s site, receipt of pre-wrapped asbestos waste at a transfer station, discovery of unexpected asbestos waste at a transfer station and disposal of pre-wrapped asbestos waste to landfill.
An additional section addressing disposal of low concentrations of ACM at a landfill will be developed by a working group later this year and added to the guidelines.
The guidelines also detail training and supervision requirements, personal protective equipment that must we worn when handling asbestos or ACM, the types of monitoring that should be carried out for workers exposed to asbestos and the issues that should be considered if workers are accidentally exposed to asbestos.
Local authorities should familiarise themselves with these guidelines, alongside the asbestos regulations and ACOP, to ensure that they are doing everything that is practicable to protect workers at their facilities and that they are meeting all of their obligations as PCBUs.
• Download the guidelines: bit.ly/asbestosguidelines
• Paul Evans is chief executive of WasteMINZ: firstname.lastname@example.org