Who Can be Trusted to Find Asbestos in New Zealand? 

by Craig Newsome1



Would you entrust your new-born child to a teenage babysitter with little or no experience, and have complete piece of mind that they would take the utmost care? Probably not, right? So why entrust your asbestos survey to anyone other than someone with experience, qualifications and competency?

Currently, there is no legislative requirement for an asbestos surveyor in New Zealand to hold any form of formal qualification; however, it is “recommended” that they are “suitably competent.”

Competency covers all manner of sins; just because you know what stipple, a cement soffit and paper backed lino looks like, does not make you a competent surveyor.

I regularly read reports demonstrating the basic incompetence of many surveyors. For example: apparently not recognising the difference between insulation board and cement soffits (in requiring friable and non-friable removal, respectively); presuming that 2010 hot water cylinders contain asbestos; not spotting rope seals in flues; AIB firebreaks between buildings, overlooked. One surveyor even missed a 10 square metre limpet ceiling. The list goes on. Why? Because the surveyors involved were inexperienced, lacked suitable training, and were not familiar with the extensive range of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) used in buildings.

There are an increasing number of clients, however, that are specifying at the tender stage of contracts that companies must have someone either W504, WP402 qualified, or must have an employee that holds a Certificate of Competency (CoC). Why? Although these are helpful, they do not demonstrate competency, but are merely starting points.

The W504 certificate does not qualify “anyone” to lead a survey, conduct air monitoring or fibre counting, or do bulk analysis – it provides a broad overview of the main aspects of the industry, and is worthless without a CoCA. To obtain a CoCA (Certificate of Competency in Asbestos), you must submit a portfolio to demonstrate experience, have at least 6 months practical supervised experience, and undergo a 2 hour interview with extremely experienced peers in the UK. Without a CoCA the W504 is a piece of paper that says you have a very basic knowledge of the industry – gained over a 5 day course.

The WP402 on its own does not demonstrate competency either; it can be obtained after a 3 day course that teaches you only the very basics of asbestos surveying – the exam can be sat with “no” prior experience or knowledge (although it is recommended that the delegate has some), and is an open book exam with a limited practical assessment. Therefore, to be regarded as suitably qualified to conduct asbestos surveys, individuals must also have at least six months’ full-time, relevant, practical field experience on asbestos surveys under the supervision of experienced and suitably qualified personnel. The experience should cover industrial, commercial and domestic property sectors, and include management, refurbishment, and demolition surveys, as appropriate.

The CoC – where do we start? The CoC is a Certificate in Competency – sounds promising doesn't it? However, The CoC specifically certificates competence in asbestos removal; yes, you heard it right! A removal contractor can be specified at tender to find asbestos! Now, not taking anything away from the remover, asbestos removals are based on what a surveyor has already found. Removal contractors are not trained to survey buildings – they are given a register, a map of the building, the location of the ACM coloured in red, and finally a great big picture of it just in case the rest of the information was too confusing (and even then sometimes they still can't find it – to the point they need a North pointing arrow on the map). They are not trained in asbestos surveys, they are trained in removal; so why is The CoC held in higher regard than a survey qualification and experience?

So asking for all these qualifications is meaningless. Yes, being qualified is a bonus, but surely the client should be making certain that those commissioned to undertake the work are competent. So how can this be achieved?

ISO 17020 accreditation for the firm commissioned to undertake the work would be a good start – this demonstrates that there is a quality management system in place. Clients should ask to see training records of surveyors in addition to qualifications – and make sure that just because a company has a qualified surveyor, that they will be the one undertaking the work, not an untrained rookie because the one qualified, experienced surveyor is 200km away in a different city. Do not get misled by talk of standards such as HSG 264, ask to see proof of standards and competency as part of your due diligence.

A competent surveyor will have extensive experience across a range of building types and surveys, and will be familiar with an extensive range of products and their uses in buildings. Ask yourself this, would you rather have a surveyor with a basic qualification and 4 weeks experience entrusted to find all the ACM's in your building? Or would you rather have someone unqualified with 2 years experience?

The correct answer is neither, you should be asking for both! If you don’t, you are putting peoples’ health at risk. Remember, asbestos kills!

August 13, 2015


1 Craig Newsome is the director of Fibresafe NZ, a leading provider of environmental and health and safety solutions in New Zealand: website: http://www.fibresafe.co.nz. The author holds a BOHS P402 and can be contacted at: info@fibresafe.co.nz



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