Removal of asbestos from hospital yet to be completed

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Asbestos has yet to be removed from Timaru Hospital’s clinical services building, more than 12 months after it was identified.
The building was tested and the removal approved in September last year, after the South Canterbury District Health Board announced in July 2015 that anaudit of the hospital’s tunnels, clinical services building’s basement and administration block’s basement in High St turned up ‘‘minimal’’ levels of asbestos.
It was not airborne, but was present in the residual dust particles.
The levels were minimal, ‘‘well below the workplace exposure standards and pose a minimal risk to a person’s health’’.
In his August 2015 report, SCDHB chief executive Nigel Trainor said a management team and occupational physician were approved to deal with the matter after advice from WorkSafe New Zealand.
Further lab tests had cleared patient records for relocation, he said.
Once staff had been trained, an interim process for the retrieval of urgent records could be approved.
All records were to come out of the basement and be stored in the administration building.
The basements of the administration and clinical services buildings hold up to 10% of paper patient records.
The SCDHB said in July 2015 it had ‘‘taken the precautionary step of containing the affected areas and restricting access until we can clean the site and the documents’’.
The affected areas had been worked in for ‘‘short periods of time’’.
‘‘Short-term, low-level exposure is likely to pose negligible risk of disease,’’ the board said.
‘‘Most people who are exposed to asbestos do not develop an asbestos-related disease, but the likelihood of disease is directly related to the amount and length of time of exposure. Therefore, it is always best to avoid exposure as much as possible.’’
The board was seeking occupational health advice for any staff and contractors who might be concerned about exposure to asbestos, Mr Trainor said at the time.
On Tuesday, SCDHB corporate services manager Fiona Gellatly said the first stage of the asbestos project, cleaning and sealing the service tunnels, had been completed.
‘‘The second stage, which is cleaning the records, has not been completed and is awaiting completion of the records building and the cleaning and removal of the records prior to cleaning and sealing this area.’’