NZPFU WARNS FENZ’S LEVEL 2 INVESTIGATION INTO AUCKLAND CITY STATION LACKS CREDIBILITY
Worksafe has issued FENZ with a notice requiring FENZ to review all Asbestos Management Plans (AMPs) to ensure they are implemented, monitored and effective. The Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) refers to ALL AMPs which means it applies to all FENZ owned/leased/occupied/used buildings across the country.
Worksafe’s PIN notice includes:
“Conclusion from enquiries that Fire and Emergency New Zealand has failed to ensure the health and safety of the workers at 40 Pitt Street, Auckland. In particular, it has failed to effectively implement and monitor controls to manage the risk posed from Asbestos fibres known to cause serious harm”.
The NZPFU is of the strong view that FENZ cannot be relied upon to have ensured a complete, accurate and notified record of the presence of asbestos in its stations and buildings, or to have effectively managed identified asbestos-contaminated areas. We believe FENZ has failed to appropriately notify staff of the identified or likely presence of asbestos. There has been a dangerous disconnect within FENZ where renovations and refurbishment work has commenced without the necessary assessments and actions to prevent exposure to possibly disturbed asbestos. We believe independent and robust investigations will show FENZ failed in its duty to take the necessary actions to identify and address exposure to asbestos prior to and during renovation work.
The NZPFU is deeply concerned FENZ may have unnecessarily and avoidably exposed firefighters and others working at Auckland City Fire Station through its failure to properly manage the asbestos risk.
FENZ is legally required to ensure that all asbestos that is likely to be disturbed has been identified and that asbestos is removed before the refurbishment/renovations commence.
Last week the Invercargill Fire Station was evacuated due to the notification of asbestos prior to renovations. The NZPFU sent it’s expert consultants to Invercargill and we are expecting their full report shortly.
The NZPFU has deemed it necessary to commission its own expert consultants due to FENZ previously refusing to hand over reports of testing into other contamination (unrelated to asbestos and Auckland City Station). The NZPFU also has no faith that FENZ’s AMP had comprehensively identified all locations of asbestos or likely contamination as FENZ had already failed to notify staff of its presence or undertake appropriate and required investigations prior to invasive renovations.
The NZPFU advises all members who may have been exposed to Asbestos to:
- Record that exposure or possible exposure in the safe@work register
- See your GP to record those exposures and have any necessary testing/x-rays. FENZ should reimburse all medical costs for the health monitoring due to exposure to asbestos in the workplace. There are lengthy latency periods for asbestos-related disease and monitoring your health is an important step to maximise early diagnosis and treatment.
- Register with the Worksafe Asbestos Exposure Database https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/notifications/asbestos-exposure-registration/
- Remember all structure fires should be treated and decontamination undertaken on the basis that asbestos is present, unless it is confirmed otherwise.
- The exposure to asbestos can raise anxiety and stress. We remind our members to recognise the impact on mental health and to seek support and access psychological care. Your union representatives can assist in accessing support and care. Please also be mindful of the impact on your colleagues and those working around you when discussing asbestos contamination and exposure.
The NZPFU will hold a Locals meeting by VC this week to discuss the implications of the Notice and the actions to be taken. The advice to be discussed will include the following:
- All Locals should request a copy of all Asbestos Management Plans (AMPs) relevant to their workplaces (stations and offices) and a date when they will be reviewed. The veracity of the AMP will depend on whether the appropriate testing and surveying was undertaken, the credentials and qualifications of those that undertook the survey/testing, whether the management plan meets the required standards and acted upon.
- Where asbestos has been identified in the workplace or is likely to be present, request your management provide copies of all notifications of its presence to staff and whether any signs or labels are visible in the location of identified asbestos (and when those signs/labels were erected). FENZ is legally required to notify the presence and location of identified asbestos is clearly indicated and to ensure everyone in the workplace is informed about the asbestos.
- If there is no AMP then request whether the buildings have been surveyed for Asbestos and a copy of any such report including confirmation of what was surveyed/tested, or when the buildings will be surveyed. Please notify the National Secretary if the buildings have not been surveyed.
- Where asbestos has been detected or likely to be present there MUST be appropriate and testing and surveying undertaken prior to any refurbishment/renovations to identify whether an asbestos may be disturbed, and to remove that asbestos prior to commencing the refurbishment/renovations. An AMP for that building means there has been asbestos risk identified.
- If renovations are underway please ask Management to immediately confirm the asbestos status of the building for refurbishment/renovation. If information confirming it is safe to remain in the building during the refurbishment/renovations is not provided immediately please evacuate until it is confirmed that the appropriate testing and surveying has shown it is safe to work from that location during renovations. Please contact the National Secretary for further support and advice.
- Please notify the National Secretary if FENZ management refuses to provide the Local with requested information or fails to do so in a timely manner. FENZ is required to make a copy of the AMP readily accessible to workers and their representatives and a copy is to be kept in the workplace.
LEVEL 2 INVESTIGATION INTO AUCKLAND CITY STATION
The NZPFU has challenged the veracity and independence of FENZ’s Level 2 investigation into the presence and management of asbestos exposures at Auckland City Station.
FENZ had set up the investigation team to include a FENZ Health, Safety and Wellbeing team member as the lead investigator, and a FENZ-contracted property manager as the second of three investigators. The third investigator would have been a NZPFU representative (external to Auckland region) but the Union has refused to participate on the basis the other two members have an obvious conflict of interest and represent work groups that should be interviewed in the process, not be part of the team that determines the outcome of the investigation.
The management of known location of asbestos, and any failure to identify now-known asbestos, or to undertake the appropriate testing and surveying prior to renovation work, and any unnecessary exposure to asbestos as a result of the renovations and prior to the renovations, and the impact on the health, safety and wellbeing on staff should be key considerations of the investigation. Therefore it is preposterous to have personnel contracted by FENZ in property management and those employed to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of staff to have any ability to impact the depth of the investigation or its outcomes and recommendations.
The NZPFU raised these obvious conflicts of interest with FENZ and that the loading of the investigation team will only fuel mistrust in management and negate any credibility of any resulting report. FENZ refused to remove those we had identified had a conflict of interest and instead added a Group Manager to the team.
The NZPFU advises its Auckland members that it is not in their interests to participate in the Level 2 investigation as we do not believe the report will be credible.
The unnecessary and avoidable exposure to asbestos at the Auckland City Fire Station was in part due to FENZ failing to undertake the necessary surveying and testing of the building prior to renovations being undertaken despite an AMP in place. That only accounts for the exposures arising at the time the renovations were underway.
Testing post the start of the renovations demonstrated asbestos that had been previously identified and asbestos that had not been identified in the survey/testing for the AMP. Firefighters, other staff and contractors had not been warned of the presence and extent of the asbestos in the loft which had been accessed regularly for various reasons by an unknown number of people over the years.
The contamination was not limited to the AMP identification of location of the asbestos as asbestos has now been identified in the BA compressor inlet and one tested breathing apparatus. The compressor was replaced in 2022 and the contaminated pipe was in use from at least 2015-2022. There is work being undertaken to identify the appropriate tests and testing regime.
The NZPFU has commissioned its own specialist consultants to test and report back to the union on proposed BA testing, and any further necessary testing and the appropriate remedial work that needs to be undertaken. That advice will also include what needs to be done to identify possible prior exposure and contamination of the BAs.
The Auckland Local and HSR have been working tirelessly to ensure the Auckland City Fire Station asbestos status is fully identified and understood, and all appropriate steps are taken to avoid any ongoing exposures. The NZPFU Local acted promptly to evacuate the building upon a positive test for asbestos in a bedroom where the renovations were being undertaken. The proper surveying, testing and analysis takes time and must be understood in order for the appropriate remediation to be taken. The NZPFU will act in accordance with its expert advice.