Asbestos can pose a significant risk to your health and that of anyone undertaking work on your home. The Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA), which came into effect last April, has shifted some of the legal responsibilities for this risk, and there is still much confusion as to who is responsible when a tradesperson is working on your property.
Under the Act, landlords acquire some new obligations for health and safety on their rental properties. This is because the Act delegates new responsibilities to what it calls a Person in Charge of a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), and it considers landlords to be PCBUs because a rental can be said to be a type of business.
But the situation for homeowners is a little different. A homeowner is not considered a PCBU so the same obligations do not apply. Therefore, homeowners are NOT responsible for the health and safety of tradespeople and other workers who come onto their property as long as they occupy the home. Here the responsibility falls to the tradesperson or their company.
However, if you run a business from your home, you will be defined as a PCBU under the Act, and will have some responsibilities. These extend to work undertaken on the specific area where the business is conducted (i.e., your office).
Your responsibility as a PCBU to manage asbestos risks in your business space is also limited to your ability to influence and control those risks. In some situations your responsibility may overlap with that of another PCBU (for example, the tradesperson), and here the PCBU with the greater influence and control manages the risk. For example, if an electrician was to insert a new light fixture in your office ceiling, in this case they would be closer to the risk and more familiar with it, and therefore better placed to manage the duty.
Regardless of who carries the primary legal obligations for the health and safety of tradespeople undertaking work on your home office, we strongly recommend that you proactively deal with asbestos in your whole home for the health of yourself, your family, and anyone else living in and/or doing work on your home.
What am I accountable for?
“In the event of any incident, you are liable – to the extent you are able to control.”
This liability includes specific responsibilities around asbestos. Any time a tradesperson such as an electrician or a plumber enters the business space to undertake work, you are responsible for any safety issues that may result from existing asbestos.
Although technically you are legally responsible only for the asbestos in your office space, if you suspect your home may contain asbestos at any location we advise that you go through the process of identifying and managing asbestos throughout the whole property, for the safety of everyone in your home.
So, what do I need to do if I want to get work done on my home office ?
Homeowners should familiarise themselves with the hazards and risks associated with their property and ensure any risks are managed effectively. Presence of asbestos poses risks for anyone undertaking work on your property. If you know, or ought reasonably to know, that there is a risk of exposure to respirable asbestos fibres in your home office, you must:
- Identify whether asbestos is present (or there are reasonable grounds to suspect asbestos is present) and, if so, where it is located and what condition it is in (reg. 10)
- Prepare an asbestos management plan for how you will manage any identified asbestos. This includes monitoring and/or encapsulation of any asbestos that does not need to be removed immediately (reg. 13)
- Carry out removal or encapsulation of any identified harmful asbestos as required.
The first step is to get your office space checked for asbestos. You can arrange for a sample of material from this area to be analysed for the presence of asbestos. We do not recommend that homeowners do their own sampling, as this can create a further risk of exposure if the sampling is done incorrectly.
Read more about our safe testing protocol Here:
What needs to be done if asbestos is identified in my office space?
Some asbestos materials can be simply identified and left in place if they are in a stable condition /or “encapsulated”. Other asbestos will need to be professionally removed. So, it’s important to get the asbestos situation in your home office assessed so you know how to manage it. A surveyor will be able to provide recommendations on your best options, which are likely to be one of the following.
Leaving the asbestos in place
If the area is not likely to be disturbed and the asbestos is in good condition, it may be able to be left in situ, as long as it is regularly monitored. This will depend on the location and condition of the asbestos, as well as the likelihood of disturbance. For example, if you have asbestos lagging on pipes under the house office where no one goes, and no plumbing work is expected to involve those pipes, it might be appropriate to simply leave the asbestos and monitor it regularly.
Another option for managing asbestos is to safely encapsulate it. Examples of encapsulation options are putting a new false ceiling underneath a stipple ceiling that contains asbestos, or laying linoleum tiles over asbestos flooring. Sometimes asbestos in HardiPlank can be managed by painting over it.
Sometimes the condition of the asbestos is such that the only way to remediate the risk is to remove it.
Removal is also necessary in any circumstance where the asbestos will be disturbed. In the example above concerning management of asbestos lagging on pipes, if plumbing work was to be undertaken requiring those pipes, the asbestos would need to be removed before the plumbing work could commence.
Any major renovation on your home office is likely to cause disturbance of asbestos, and in this circumstance the asbestos also must be professionally removed before the work begins. This will ensure the safety of any tradespeople who may enter your office space.
What is the asbestos management plan?
An asbestos management plan sets out how any identified asbestos will be managed. It clarifies and confirms the steps you have taken to identify and mitigate the risk that the asbestos poses to any workers coming into your office space.
Though currently the plan is required only if you are planning to undertake work on the office space, as of 4 April 2018 you will be required to keep a written asbestos management plan for any space where asbestos has been identified regardless of whether or not work is planned. The plan must include information on:
- Identification of asbestos
- Decisions and reasons for decisions about management of the risk
- Procedures for detailing or emergencies involving asbestos
- Information on any workers who carry out work involving the asbestos, including their training, roles and responsibilities, and health monitoring.
This plan must be kept up to date and reviewed. It also must be made available to anyone who may be carrying out work, including any minor or routine maintenance work, on your office space.
How do I make the plan?
The first step in creating your management plan is to engage an asbestos surveying company to come into your office space to record the locations of all accessible asbestos (http://asbestosremovalnz.co.nz/information/). You should add the details from this survey to your management plan to pinpoint where the asbestos is located and the condition it is currently in. WorkSafe is developing a technical bulletin that will be available soon to assist with this planning.
You should also add an outline to your plan of your own management measures for stable asbestos. These could be as simple as regularly painting a wall that contains stable asbestos, or making a commitment not to hang items (pictures or plants etc.) or drill into the wall.
If requested upon hiring, the asbestos surveying company will write the asbestos management plan for you, and create recommendations as to management. However, the overall decision regarding management of the asbestos is up to you as the PCBU.
If you are planning a refurbishment that involves major disruption such as pushing out walls, changing ceiling height, replacing all window frames, or changing room layout, the asbestos safety risks are more serious and the regulations are more stringent. In this scenario, you must get licenced professionals in to identify and remove any identified asbestos before the work commences (reg. 26).
This will require a refurbishment/demolition survey, which is a lot more intrusive than the survey required for the asbestos management plan. Refurbishment surveys involve going under lino, around windows, and behind stoves, ceilings, gib, and fascia etc. Nothing will be left to presumption.
See our detailed information on asbestos removal: http://asbestosremovalnz.co.nz/safe-asbestos-removal/.
The next practical steps:
- Learn about common asbestos materials – see our guide about what asbestos is and where you could find it in your home.
- Review your property to see if you can identify any existence of asbestos.
- Document your findings
- If you are planning to renovate, arrange for asbestos testing before beginning any work
- If you know you have asbestos in your office space, make sure any tradespeople know before they undertake any maintenance or building works.
Looking for advice on how to manage asbestos ? Do you need help with asbestos removal ? Speak to us about getting a quote for the safe asbestos removal in your home.