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Managing asbestos removal for trouble-free projects

Getting asbestos removal right is crucial to avoiding project delays and reputational harm.

The presence of asbestos on building projects has the potential to cause serious problems if not managed correctly.

Inappropriate management can lead to projects being temporarily shut down, have significant cost implications, and damage the reputation of the firms involved, particularly if there is contamination outside the work zone. Conversely, following a tested and well-implemented process helps ensure projects come in on time and on budget while removing the potential for harm to workers and the wider community.

As part of Ngā iti Kahurangi (NIK) school’s refurbishment programme an asbestos management survey was conducted for Norsewood and Districts School in Manawatu-Wanganui as a required precursor to project work being done. The survey revealed asbestos in its main classroom block where work was to be carried out.

Torque IP Project Manager Mark Carter says that the presence of asbestos meant the refurbishment project couldn’t proceed until the asbestos was either removed or isolated. “In this case the decision was made to remove the asbestos. This was a Class A asbestos removal project, which relates to the asbestos containing material being “friable” or easily crumbled with high potential for causing harm during the refurbishment work through becoming airborne. As a result, the asbestos removal contractor needed to put in place the most stringent controls to ensure it was done safely, both for its workers and the wider community.”

The Class A asbestos removal required that the entire working space be enclosed and negative pressure units (NPU) used to maintain the correct negative pressure inside the space. NPUs are equipped with HEPA filters that are 99.9% effective in filtering the air.

No surprises through proper process

As project manager Torque IP’s role was to select an asbestos removal contractor and then run the project through to completion. This included communications with the school, the contractor, the Ministry and an independent asbestos assessor.

“As project manager it’s down to us to ensure that everything is being done correctly. We ensure that all parties are communicated with clearly, so everyone knows what is going on and when. We make sure all the legal and work-and-safety requirements are being met, including communicating with the school and community,” says Mark Carter.

The Ministry requires asbestos removal to be conducted outside of school hours if possible. The affected building contained the majority of the school’s classrooms, meaning the project had to be tightly managed over the summer break if the school was to be able to commence teaching on time in the new year. Torque IP selected McMahon Services as the asbestos removal contractor following a Ministry of Education aligned RFQ process. The job required the removal of the suspended ceiling in the block, and the clearing of the ceiling cavity and other areas in the block of asbestos.

The Class A asbestos removal required that the entire working space be enclosed with the contractor calculating the number of negative pressure units (NPU) required to maintain the correct negative pressure inside the fully enclosed space. NPUs are equipped with HEPA filters that are 99.9% effective in filtering the air. Windows in the block were removed and purpose built timber framing was constructed to accommodate the NPUs. Additionally mobile units were deployed to ensure there were no ‘dead spots’. Air inlets were used to ensure sufficient airflow, with 40000cm3 of air being circulated every eight minutes. In addition a rigorous procedure is required to transition the removed material out of the building to a temporary safe storage location for disposal at the end of the project.

Mark Carter says that the need for absolute certainty around the work being done means that neither Torque IP as project manager nor the asbestos removal contractor can inspect and approve their own work. “This is where an independent, suitably qualified asbestos assessor comes into the equation. We engaged an independent assessor, to be on site for the duration of the removal project, both to ensure that correct removal processes were adhered to and to complete sample air testing. A final multi-stage inspection was also completed consisting of visual inspection, sample surface testing and air-quality testing.”

Only when the independent assessor had provided a “Clearance Certificate” was the asbestos removal considered complete. With the asbestos safely removed, work could commence on the Ngā iti Kahurangi programme work for the school.

Only when an independent assessor had provided a “Clearance Certificate” was the asbestos removal considered complete and the NIK work programme for the school could commence.

Norsewood and Districts School Principal Angela McQuarrie says the project could not have gone better. “We knew it would be a complex job that had to be done within a very tight timeframe, so we had a contingency plan if it wasn’t completed on time, which involved using another hall and two classrooms at another school.  But they were really right on the nail, having the classrooms ready for us when they said they would.”

“The way the teams all worked together was impressive. The communication from Torque IP was excellent. Mark was available at all times, and he let me know if anything was happening. He was updating me the whole time. It was a big job, and I was a little bit nervous about it being done on time but everything worked like clockwork. They were in and out in six weeks. I was impressed.”

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