Hefty fine a reminder of asbestos dangers

By Andrew Hobbs on November 9th, 2017
  1. Risk Management
  2. Hazard Identification


FINES handed down to building contractors over the past month serve as a reminder to companies to be extra careful when handling asbestos – even when the most remote chance of an incident exists.

The ACT’s Industrial Court penalised two companies following prosecutions launched by Access Canberra and WorkSafe ACT.

Canberra painter Paul Papas was convicted and penalised $249,634 in the ACT Industrial Court after pleading guilty to charges under the ACT’s Work Health and Safety Regulation (2011) in October.

Mr Papas’ company had used a high pressure washer to clean an asbestos cement roof in late October 2016, disturbing the asbestos and spreading it onto surrounding properties and the roadway, causing serious disruption and safety concerns.

He was fined a combined $1,980 for directing or allowing a worker to carry out work involving asbestos, failing to ensure an asbestos register was readily accessible and for directing or allowing a fworker to use a high pressure water spray on asbestos.

The remainder of the penalty came from the bill for clean-up costs, after WorkSafe was required to close the area and arrange for it to be cleaned.

A second company, Samarkos Earthmoving, was fined $60,000 this week after pleading guilty to breaching section 33 of the Work Health and Safety Act (2010).

The company was the principal contractor responsible for the private demolition of a house known to be contaminated by loose-fill asbestos insulation – known by its former trademark, Mr Fluffy.

The Canberra Times reported that Samarkos pleaded guilty to failing to comply with its duty under workplace health and safety laws to ensure adequate water suppression and effective communication between workers and machinery operators at the property.

Samarkos had experience in dealing with asbestos, had prepared numerous safety plans and had appointed asbestos removal specialists for further advice on the day the house was to be torn down.

But a miscommunication allowed the operator of an excavator to mistakenly start demolishing the house before workers had been able to spray it with water to suppress asbestos dust, as per the plan.

Workers on the site yelled at the operator to stop, but because the radio in the excavator did not work and there was no air-horn on site, he did not hear the order until someone called his mobile phone.

While Industrial Magistrate Lorraine Walker said she accepted the company had generally acted responsibly in its planning, she said its approach to implementing those precautions “ultimately rendered them ineffective”, The Canberra Times reported.

Long-lasting danger

While asbestos has not been used in domestic building materials since the 1980s, many older buildings and equipment still have asbestos-containing materials (ACM) that workers may be exposed to.

Under work health and safety laws across Australia, a person controlling a business or undertaking (PCBU), or the person with the management or control of a workplace with asbestos, must ensure they consult with any workers likely to be affected, or their representatives.

Exposure to asbestos fibres is the most common cause of lung cancer mesothelioma – and the risk of inhaling these fibres increases when ACMs are damaged, or broken up during construction activity.

Workplaces are also required to keep an up-to-date register of where asbestos is located within a workplace, and to make that register readily accessible to any person or business carrying out work there.

When to hire a professional

All asbestos removal work should be carried out by a licensed asbestos removalist, except in exceptional cases where less than 10 square metres of non-friable asbestos, such as fibro-cement, is being removed.

Chapter A3 of the Health & Safety Handbook, published by Portner Press, recommends that any business hiring a worker for asbestos removal should check their licence – whether they hold a Class A licence for the removal of all types of asbestos, or a Class B licence, which only covers non-friable ACM.

The Handbook also contains a checklist to ensure that any asbestos removal work undertaken at your workplace is done in accordance with health and safety laws.

Further information about when to engage professionals, what to consider for the removal of asbestos contamination and a checklist for waste containment and disposal is available in the Health and Safety Handbook, one of more than 70 written by lawyers from Holding Redlich.

Why not order a copy today on an obligation-free trial and put it to the test at your business?


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