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Property Knowledge Hour - Asbestos management

Asbestos management in buildings is an area public sector property professionals are required to keep up to date on. WorkSafe oversees the regulatory environment, and the requirement for Person Conducting a Business of Undertaking (PCBUs) including PCBU landlords.

A goal of WorkSafe is to reduce the country’s asbestos related disease toll by 50 percent by the year 2040.

Robert Birse, Principal Advisor Asbestos at WorkSafe, spoke at our recent public sector property knowledge hour session about the requirement for landlords to have an asbestos management plan in place for all buildings constructed before 2000, where there is a risk of exposure to respirable fibres.

Reserve Bank of New Zealand, Manager, Property Assets and Physical Security, Robert Lopez, gave a first-hand view of their experience following the identification of asbestos at 2 The Terrace.


Robert Birse explained there have been changes to the health and safety legislation, following lessons learned from the Pike River disaster and the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.

In 2013, WorkSafe was created as a stand-alone agency and its statement of intent focuses strongly on health and safety, including reducing harm caused by asbestos, and the requirement of primary duty of care. This means PCBUs have a shared and overlapping duty with other PCBUs under the legislation.

“Any situation you get multiple PCBUs working on a site there is a shared responsibility and duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act. For asbestos this means there is a duty to produce an asbestos management plan, and share this information with other PCBUs,” Robert Birse said.

It has been a requirement since 2016 for any building or structure built before 2000 to have an asbestos management plan, to identify where there is a risk of asbestos. This includes detailing buildings and structures like drains, communication towers, or any structure that might have asbestos.

WorkSafe recommends that the site be surveyed and the asbestos types identified within the plan. The other option is to assume asbestos is everywhere on site.

“If a survey is done at the start for the plan then there is more certainty. Otherwise when each job for repair or maintenance is undertaken a survey of the individual structure will need to be done at the time of work to clarify the type of asbestos,” Robert Birse said.

Asbestos is defined by its condition not by the product. Asbestos is described as friable or non-friable, depending on its ability to be turned into a powder, or ability to be crumbled by hand.

There are different classes of removalists and friable asbestos has the higher risk and has to be removed by a removalist with a Class A licence. Other key points Robert Birse recommends are:

  • keep a copy of the asbestos management plan on site, and make this available to the people who work there, not simply hold it centrally at head office
  • have a plan that identifies where the asbestos is and the condition it is in and what people working on that area need to do (a management plan). The plan needs available to workers carrying out work in the building, workers representatives, and other PCBUs working in the building or intending to carry out work in the building. The plan has to be reviewed every five-years
  • understand the condition of the asbestos as that determines the actions required to manage the asbestos.
  • The journey is to identify where it is in the building or structure. Survey the site as part of developing the plan or assume asbestos is everywhere in the plan
  • all work involving asbestos is regulated. People can undertake work as long as it’s done safely – the level of friable or non-friable asbestos will determine the workers licence level.

Reserve Bank case study

The Reserve Bank identified asbestos at 2 The Terrace. Robert Lopez Manager, Property Assets and Physical Security, discussed the remediation project that followed, and shared learnings from this journey of discovery.

He said asbestos containing dust was identified in a couple of locations along the core walls where asbestos was known to exist as it was used a fire retardant. As a precaution the building was closed so that they could do a comprehensive site survey and plan for the remediation project.

“WorkSafe came in and we were told it was low risk but as a health and safety precaution a decision was made to shut down the building to do the remediation work,” Robert Lopez said.

The Reserve Bank moved to another building for 6-8 months.

“A project undertook planning and a decision was made to encapsulate the walls. Early on we engaged WorkSafe about the methodology and approach. They gave feedback rather than approval. We went through a formal procurement exercise to source the removalist,” Robert Lopez said.

An environmental clean of the majority of the building infrastructure was also undertaken, in addition to a process of sealing all penetrations, replacing ceiling tiles, and removing and reinstating the floors.

As part of the process they came across legacy issues. There was lots of remediation and reinstatement work. The project was heavily focused on encapsulation.

Robert Lopez said clearance certificates were signed off for each floor to ensure each floor was managed as per the methodology in the plan.

As part of the project they also explained asbestos to those working in the buildings to give reassurance, discuss that the asbestos in the building was low risk, and inform them about the remediation processes.

There were a lot of learnings from the work and shared responsibilities to keep each other safe. We found we needed to improve our health and safety processes for contractors, and that’s something we are putting in our asbestos management planning going forward, Robert Lopez said.

If you have questions please email us.