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2016 July-December Front-line view

WorkSafe New Zealand’s health and safety assessment inspectors see many work-related health issues on workplace visits. Between July and December last year, the most common health issues inspectors discussed with businesses related to noise, silica, asbestos and wood dust (see Figs 1 and 2).

Noise was an issue across all sectors. Of the 640 assessments, 38 (6%) resulted in an enforcement notice. All but one of these enforcements were improvement notices.

Silica was the second-most commonly raised issue overall and the most common in the construction sector. Silica dust is likely to be generated by the cutting of bricks, blocks and concrete. It’s an issue for Canterbury rebuild workers and those in other high-density building areas. There were 10 silica-related prohibition notices and 21 silica-related improvement notices issued.

Asbestos continues to be an important issue in construction, particularly where old buildings are being demolished such as the earthquake areas of Canterbury and Wellington.  Seventy-seven of the 422 asbestos assessments (18%) resulted in an enforcement notice, of which two-thirds were prohibition notices.

Wood dust was the fourth most common work-related health issue, mainly in construction and manufacturing businesses. Wood dust is generated by activities such as sawing, cutting and sanding, as well as by dry sweeping of dust and bagging dust from extraction systems.


As part of the Clean Air Programme, inspectors continue to focus on solvents, welding fumes, and carbon monoxide as well as silica and wood dust.


[image] Fig 1 Assessments with work-related health focus, July-December 2016.

Fig 1: Assessments with work-related health focus, July-December 2016


[image] Fig 2 Number of work-related health assessments, by sector, July-December 2016.

Fig 2: Number of work-related health assessments by sector, July-December 2016


Tips to eliminate health risks


Wood dust

1. Eliminate the risk

Eliminate the risk by buying pre-cut or processed wood materials.

2. Use appropriate ventilation and extraction methods

  • Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) is one of the most effective ways to control dust at the source. Use LEV systems to capture dust from cutting, shaping and sanding wood either by hand or machine.
  • Use on-tool extraction on saws and grinders to control wood dust at source. Refer to the manufacturer’s operating instructions for equipment use and maintenance. For example, use the correct saw blade or planer for the task.
  • Use water damping methods where practical. Don’t use blowers, fans or compressed air to move wood dust. Provide a suitable industrial vacuum to remove dust from work areas.

3. Reduce worker exposure time

Minimise worker exposure by limiting the time each person spends doing dusty work.

4. PPE and monitoring

  • Provide workers with appropriate respiratory protection equipment (RPE) when emptying vacuum cleaner bags or collection bags as there is a potential for high wood dust exposure. In addition, make sure all tight fitting respirators are fit tested for each worker who uses them.
  • Ensure workers have task-appropriate RPE and other suitable personal protection equipment (PPE), and that it fits properly.
  • Advise workers to remove work clothing such as overalls carefully at the end of the task or shift to avoid generating dust clouds. Provide washing facilities at work so dust is not taken home.
  • Advise workers to wash their face and hands immediately after finishing the task and before eating, drinking or smoking.

If levels of wood dust could be harmful, make sure that the workers’ exposure is monitored by an occupational hygienist or another suitably trained person. If workers are routinely exposed to wood dust, arrange health monitoring for them.

For more information, see our fact sheet on wood dust.



1. Measure noise levels

Firstly, find out if you have a noise problem. It’s important to know what the noise levels are, where the noise comes from, and how long the workers are exposed to it. This information will help you work out the necessary risk controls.

2. Eliminate or minimise noise levels

Noise can be eliminated from the workplace by replacing old noisy machinery with newer, quieter machinery.

If it’s not reasonably practicable, there are other ways to minimise the hazard such as:

  • Relocating noisy machinery to less populated areas
  • Enclosing noisy components, reducing vibration noises by lining components with rubber
  • Running noisy machinery when fewer workers are around
  • Seeking specialist advice

3. Hearing protection and health monitoring

If a health risk remains, supply workers with hearing protection ensuring they know why and how to use it and how to fit it properly.

Annual worker hearing tests should also be provided by the business.



1. If possible, eliminate silica

In abrasive blasting, for example, alternative products such as metallic shot, slag products or grit can be used instead of sand.

2. Minimisation methods

Reduce dust levels by using water or dust extraction methods to redirect and collect dust from the work area. Don’t use brooms or compressed air to sweep dust or blow it away as this stirs up more dust.

3. PPE and monitoring

Ensure anybody exposed to silica dust has appropriate, properly fitted respiratory protective equipment, overalls and gloves. Make sure workers understand silica risks and how to contain and protect against those risks. In addition, regularly monitor the health of those workers regularly exposed to silica.

Read our fact sheet on silica dust in the workplace for more information.



1. Have the right licence for the job

Friable asbestos removal can only be conducted by a person in charge of a business or undertaking (PCBU) with a Class A asbestos removal licence.

For non-friable asbestos removal, a Class B asbestos removal licence is required if more than 10m2 needs removing.  This can also be done by a Class A PCBU.

A licence is not required for removing up to 10m2 non-friable asbestos, but regardless of how much asbestos needs removing, PCBUs must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that airborne asbestos exposure is eliminated or minimised. Read the latest on our new asbestos requirements.

2. Training

Businesses must make sure all workers doing asbestos work have received appropriate training and instruction to do the job safely, and do not put themselves or others at risk. Workers conducting licensed asbestos removal must attend relevant training by 4 April 2018.

Businesses must provide the necessary supervision to protect workers from health and safety risks. For workers conducting licensed asbestos removal, ensure their work is supervised by someone with the required qualifications and experience. Find out more about the new asbestos training requirements.

3. PPE and monitoring

It is essential in an asbestos environment that the workers’ PPE minimises asbestos fibres entering their breathing zone. Our fact sheet on what PPE to use with asbestos has more information.

Last updated 27 June 2017