Worksafe NZ have very clear and concise requirements for the health monitoring of employees who are or could be exposed to Asbestos in the course of their work. These regulations were updated on 4th April 2016 – to see up to date information on your responsibilities as a PCBU.
The following Worksafe link will offer additional information https://worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/asbestos/roles-and-responsibilities/work-involving-asbestos
WOHC Ltd currently provides various medical services and assessments to a number of clients who regularly work with or participate in the removal of asbestos.
WOHC works closely with several Occupation Medicine Specialist Physicians; Dr David Prestage, Dr James McLeod and Dr Rod Nicholson to carry out the initial asbestos medicals and provide the necessary recommendations for further testing/monitoring.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of many small fibres.
This page describes how asbestos has been used in the past, and what types of asbestos there are.
Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen, and all forms of asbestos can cause cancer. The main way people are exposed to asbestos is by breathing in air that contains asbestos fibres
Asbestos causes cancer in a dose-dependent manner. The greater the exposure, and the longer the time of exposure, the greater the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
No ‘safe’ lower limit of exposure has been identified with certainty – all exposure is thought to add to the overall risk of disease development – but the risk from a single, low-level exposure is considered to be extremely low.
Keep exposure to asbestos as low as possible.
Intact asbestos-containing material is not a risk merely by its presence. Potential health problems occur if asbestos fibres become airborne.
Diseases related to asbestos
Inhaling significant quantities of airborne asbestos causes:
- asbestosis (scarring of lung tissue)
- mesothelioma (malignant tumours, cancers that develop around the lungs or intestine)
- pleural plaques (thickening of membranes around the lungs)
- cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary.
Symptoms of asbestos-related diseases include breathing difficulties and ‘scarring’ of the lung that can be detected by x-ray.
Harmful effects following ingestion of asbestos have not been clearly documented. However, it has been shown that few fibres are able to penetrate the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, the non-gastrointestinal effects from oral exposure to asbestos are unlikely. There is no consistent evidence that ingested asbestos is hazardous to health.
Smoking can increase the risk of developing lung cancer following exposure to asbestos.
The main way people are exposed to asbestos is by breathing in air that contains asbestos fibres. Small levels of asbestos fibres occur naturally in air, including as a result of weathering breaking down asbestos-containing materials, windblown soil from hazardous waste sites or deterioration of motor vehicle clutches and brakes.
The levels of asbestos in dust and windblown soil may be higher close to degrading asbestos cement clad buildings, or former sites of such buildings, or a waste site where asbestos is disturbed or not properly covered.
Silica dust in the workplace
This guidance advises PCBUs of the risks of respirable crystalline silica dust and how to control them and protect their workers.
The following Worksafe link will offer additional information https://worksafe.govt.nz/topic-and-industry/dust/silica-dust-in-the-workplace#lf-doc-55317
Silicosis is a progressive and deadly disease that causes fibrosis of the lungs from the inhalation of respirable crystalline silica (RCS) dust. (RCS dust is also known to cause cancer.) As a PCBU, you have a duty to eliminate, or use controls to minimise worker exposure to the hazard of, and risks from, RCS dust.
Respirable crystalline silica dust
Silica is a natural substance found in concrete, bricks, rocks, stone (including artificial or engineered stone found in composite kitchen benchtops), sand and clay. RCS dust is created when materials containing silica are cut, ground, drilled, sanded, polished or otherwise disturbed. RCS particles are extremely small; they can’t always be seen with the naked eye.
How workers can be exposed to RCS dust
Workers in the following industries or who work with the following materials are most at risk of being exposed to RCS dust:
- construction: concrete, stone, bricks, mortar, fibre cement products
- manufacturing of concrete, bricks and tiles
- kitchen benchtop manufacturing (natural and engineered stone), finishing and fitting
- abrasive blasting
- monumental masonry work
- concrete drilling, cutting, grinding, fettling, mixing, handling, dry shovelling,
Health effects of exposure to RCS dust
Workers may develop the following lung diseases from breathing in RCS dust:
- Silicosis: scarring of lung tissue resulting in shortness of breath. May continue to develop even after exposure to RCS dust has stopped. The effects of silicosis are permanent. There are three types of silicosis: acute silicosis: may occur after exposure of less than a year to very large amounts of RCS dust
- accelerated silicosis: may occur after exposure to large amounts of RCS dust over a shorter period of time, typically 3 to 10 years. Has been seen in workers from the artificial/engineered stone kitchen benchtop industry
- chronic silicosis: typically results from exposure to RCS dust over more than 20 years.
- Lung cancer: may occur in workers exposed to high levels of RCS dust over a long period of time.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): a chronic lung condition that can lead to breathing difficulties such as emphysema in workers exposed to high levels of RCS dust over a long period of time.
There is some evidence that exposure to RCS dust may also cause kidney disease.