Workers warned on asbestos

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 05:00 06/12/2013

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Hundreds of rebuild workers have been given a grim wake-up call in a bid to avoid a legacy of danger and asbestos-related deaths.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment yesterday hosted a trade breakfast and trans-Tasman forum for almost 400 contractors and their employers, with a focus on the importance of identifying asbestos before work begins on a site and wearing protection gear.

Health officials, representatives from recovery authorities and major insurers also attended.

Maria Burns, an occupational health nurse from Moorhouse Medical, said there was no doubt there had been "accidental exposures to asbestos in this rebuild".

"It's a hidden killer and it's a potential health timebomb in Christchurch," she said.

Studies showed plumbers, carpenters and electricians were most at risk of exposure, she said, but demolition crews in Christchurch were also in the firing line.

She encouraged workers to get health checkups that included measuring lung capacity and a chest X-ray..

"The potential exposure to asbestos in the Christchurch rebuild is unprecedented."

Mike Cosman, director of Impac Risk and Safety Management Solutions, said any workers unsure about "what you're going into" should stop work immediately and ask the project supervisor about the potential risks.

Canterbury District Health Board medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey believed the EQC should be forced to reveal which homes asbestos had been encased in found in, and called for a moratorium on the policy.

"Sadly, this is quickly becoming a public health issue, not just an occupational health risk."

A young family could carry out minor renovations - such as drilling through some plasterboard to install lights - and unknowingly be exposed to asbestos.

Humphrey said a baby crawling around on carpet "covered with contaminated dust from the ceiling" could be exposed to dangerous fibres for months.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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