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Revisiting The Asbestos Regulations

Over recent years, asbestos regulations have been the centre of attention in New Zealand's construction industry. The dangers of asbestos, a fibrous mineral extensively used in building materials until the late 20th century, are well-documented. It poses severe health risks, including the development of mesothelioma and asbestosis when its fibres are inhaled.

Given these risks, New Zealand's Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 has been a crucial instrument in dictating how asbestos is handled in the construction industry. However, five years since these regulations came into effect, there is a pressing need to examine how well the construction industry is complying with the rules, and the influence they have on the industry's operations.

The Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 are comprehensive, covering all aspects of asbestos handling and management in workplaces. They require any work involving the removal of asbestos to be carried out by licensed asbestos removalists, and mandate that all workplaces with asbestos present must have an asbestos management plan.

In theory, the requirements are clear-cut, providing construction companies with a blueprint for safety. However, implementation and adherence to these rules in the real world can be a complex matter. A key challenge for many businesses has been navigating the requirements and ensuring that they are fulfilling their legal obligations.

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WorkSafe New Zealand, the country's primary regulator for workplace health and safety, has been playing an active role in overseeing and enforcing these regulations. However, their task is no small feat given the widespread use of asbestos in New Zealand buildings prior to the year 2000. For construction companies involved in renovation or demolition projects, the probability of encountering asbestos is high.

Despite the difficulties, there are promising signs of robust compliance within the industry. Many construction companies have taken the initiative to seek proper training and licensing for their staff. The number of licensed asbestos removalists in New Zealand has seen a significant increase over the years, reflecting a conscious effort to prioritise safe asbestos handling and removal.

That said, there have also been instances of non-compliance. In recent years, several construction companies have faced hefty penalties for breaching the regulations. These cases often involve the improper handling of asbestos-containing materials, putting workers and the public at risk of exposure.

While non-compliance cases are concerning, they have also highlighted the strength of New Zealand's regulatory enforcement. WorkSafe New Zealand has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to uphold the regulations, carrying out regular inspections and not hesitating to take action when breaches are identified.

The introduction of the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 has undeniably impacted the way the construction industry operates. The regulations have prompted a cultural shift in the industry, with an increased emphasis on safety and risk mitigation when dealing with asbestos.

The journey towards full compliance is ongoing. There remains a need for continual education and vigilance to ensure that all companies understand and fulfil their obligations under the regulations. By doing so, the construction industry can play a crucial role in reducing the risk of asbestos-related diseases in New Zealand and contribute to creating a safer built environment for all.

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