Commercial property owners must prepare for new health and safety regulations governing asbestos, due to come into effect early next year.

That's the message from Bayleys managing director Mike Bayley, who points out that the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 come fully into effect on April 4.

It is imperative that owners of property where there is asbestos start drawing up their asbestos management plan now, he says.

Under current rules, commercial property owners or occupiers are required to identify any asbestos in the workplace. If a building owner or occupier knows there is a risk of exposure to respirable asbestos fibres, they must identify all asbestos that poses a risk of exposure, as well as any material containing more than 1 per cent asbestos.

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Bayley believes a significant number of commercial buildings in New Zealand are likely to still have asbestos or asbestos-containing material (ACM) in them, particularly those built or renovated between 1940 and the mid-80s, when asbestos was often used as a fire retardant and in insulation.

"Modern commercial buildings are less likely to contain asbestos or ACM.

"However, commercial property owners should note the import ban on all products containing asbestos only came into force late last year, and so not assume their properties are asbestos-free.

"Property owners and tenants should conduct an asbestos survey of their buildings, keep a record of the location and condition of the asbestos they find and update their risk register accordingly," says Bayley.

Worksafe New Zealand says the regulations will assist commercial property owners and workplace managers to minimise harm to people working around asbestos, until the material is eliminated.

"People living and working near asbestos and ACM should expect their health to be protected and workers to use safe practices to manage or remove asbestos, the government body says," says Bayley.

"The dangers of asbestos exposure are well-known. It is New Zealand's single largest cause of deaths from work-related disease."

Lawyers Tim Clarke and Jane Holland, who specialise in health and safety law and commercial real estate, say a (written) asbestos management plan must contain:

• the identification of asbestos or ACM;
• decisions (including reasons for those decisions) on how the risk caused by the asbestos is managed; and
• procedures for detailing incidents or emergencies involving asbestos or ACM in the workplace.

Lawyers for New Zealand firm Bell Gully say a building owner or occupier must ensure the asbestos management plan is kept up-to-date and a copy is readily accessible to any worker who has carried out, carries out, or intends to carry out work at the workplace, or any business that intends to carry out work at the workplace.

"After April 4, businesses will revise their plans if the asbestos is removed from, or disturbed at the workplace, or if five years have passed since the plan was last reviewed.

"The regulations also require businesses that manage or control a workplace to ensure a person's exposure to airborne asbestos is eliminated so far as is reasonably practicable, or minimised where it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk."

Clarke and Holland say there could be situations where the property owner and tenant will both be considered responsible for the "management or control of a workplace", and therefore have overlapping duties under the regulations.

"In these scenarios, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 requires both parties to consult, co-operate and co-ordinate activities ensuring no gaps in protection. Parties will need to share information on how they will meet their obligations.

"For example, who will take responsibility for maintaining the asbestos management plan, and what process will the building owner and the building occupier use to communicate relevant information when it comes to light?" say the lawyers.