As an employer in New Zealand, you’re required to follow certain regulations to ensure the safety of your employees. Adequate rest breaks and OHS training are just two requirements of national law to mitigate the risk of injury or harm to workers’ health.
On top of this, you’re also responsible for ensuring your staff have a safe environment to work in. For NZ employers, managing asbestos in your commercial outlet is essential to meeting government legislation on safe working conditions.
What is the legislation around managing asbestos?
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, anyone operating a commercial business or undertaking (which covers charity-organisation events and other non-commercial operations) is responsible for providing a safe working environment for all employees. As such, business owners must make certain any risk to employee health is well-managed.
Part of this responsibility is defined in The Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016. This laid out employers’ asbestos responsibilities as they pertain to achieving a safe workplace. It summates that all business owners aware of the presence of asbestos in their building should, as of April 2018, have a management strategy in place and be willing to take any opportunities to reduce the risk of airborne contamination.
This doesn’t necessarily mean employers need to undertake time-consuming asbestos removal. If it’s safer and more practical to manage the presence of asbestos with encapsulation treatment - or by providing protective clothing to employees - business owners may choose this option. However, any work done must be completed by a certified professional, to ensure any risk of respiratory issues for your staff is minimised.
Businesses that fail to comply with this ruling can be at risk of significant penalties. This can be a fine (up to $50,000 for businesses and $10,000 for individuals), restrictions on your business operations, or potentially a jail sentence if you’re proven to be deliberately negligent in your responsibility to address airborne asbestos fibres.
Allocating commercial responsibility for asbestos management
In some scenarios, it may be unclear who bears responsibility for maintaining workplace safety. Examples include:
A landlord/commercial tenant relationship.
Shared commercial outlets such as airports or multi-lease spaces.
Under New Zealand law, landlords cannot contract themselves out of responsibility for managing and treating asbestos in any commercial operation occurring on their property. They can, however, negotiate with leaseholders as to the details of how the asbestos is managed. For example, a long-standing commercial tenant could be charged with conducting an extensive asbestos survey during their lease.
If any asbestos is discovered, the responsibility for managing it could then pass to the landlord. While there are numerous scenarios where this could apply, all parties - landowners and business owners under tenancy - are responsible for the health and safety of all workers on site, regardless of their overall involvement in the day-to-day matters of the business. Consequently, all parties should be diligent in identifying whether asbestos is present in their structure, and treating it appropriately with the help of certified professionals.
How do I know if my commercial property has asbestos?
Asbestos was a commonly used building material for decades, and only become illegal in the late 1980s – as such, almost any modern business could have asbestos in their commercial property. While exposure to asbestos is most common in the construction industry - especially in projects that involve demolishing or refurbishing older structures - business owners cannot be certain there is no threat to themselves and their employees from asbestos deterioration. The only way to know for sure is to seek professional guidance on asbestos testing and management.
To determine if your commercial outlet has asbestos, and to remain compliant with workplace safety laws, you should:
Check building plans or maintenance records to see if there is any mention of asbestos-removal work.
If these records aren’t available to you, carefully take a sample of your building material and send it away for expert asbestos testing.
If you discover that you do have asbestos in your building, it’s vital you meet your asbestos-management responsibilities by taking appropriate steps to manage or remove it as soon as possible.
Alternatively, if you want to leave managing asbestos on your commercial property to the professionals, reach out to our asbestos treatment team today. We at Chemcare are trusted industry experts, and our team will be more than happy to help you take the first steps to a safer workplace environment.