Asbestos still a major issue in 2018

Friday, 17 August, 2018

Asbestos still a major issue in 2018

Despite being banned from use in Australia from 2004, asbestos is still causing issues for many workplaces. Steven Hains, National Practice Lead, Property, Greencap, believes there’s still a general lack of understanding when it comes to the management of asbestos, which is creating a significant challenge for business and government.

Steven will be presenting ‘Asbestos — still a major issue for business in 2018’ at the upcoming the National Safety Conference, which is part of the SAFETYconnect event. In the lead-up to the event, we asked Steven for his opinion on some of the asbestos issues and some of his tips for managing asbestos.

Q: WorkSafe Victoria has recently charged a pub owner in relation to the identification and treatment of asbestos during a hotel demolition. In your opinion, why do you think PCBUs are still getting this wrong and breaching WHS/OHS asbestos rules?

The above case you mention is still working its way through the courts but there is clearly a lack of understanding, and allegedly even disregard, for the requirements of managing asbestos. Even with as much publicity and educational material as there is available, I think there is still a lack of understanding around where asbestos is located within properties, the risks associated with it and what control measures are required for managing those risks. The risk/compliance/governance piece is one that can be quite daunting for PCBUs and I think it is more a lack of awareness and understanding than a deliberate act to go against the regulations in relation to the management of asbestos. We still see a small percentage who attempt to save costs by not following the rules but I think the large majority of it is a lack of awareness. The gaps appear to be more prevalent in the smaller players and individual tradies — this is where an increased focus is needed from an awareness perspective.

Q: In your experience, what are some top tips for getting everyone on board to manage the WHS/OHS risks associated with asbestos on construction and building sites?

Education and awareness are the key. We need to make it as simple as possible for people to understand what is required. Similar to how there is a construction industry induction ‘white card’ (or other state-based variations), I feel there is a real need to incorporate asbestos awareness into this process — the recent Senate Estimates Committee report into imported products made a recommendation about this awareness training becoming mandatory.

I also believe that the various state-based regulators have made some good progress in moving towards more of an educational-type approach rather than the pecuniary approach. We need to continue with the education piece and keep driving awareness around the issue — the recent spate of imported products entering the country is a great example. Most people would think if they were working on a building built in 2015 that there is nothing to worry about with asbestos (and there shouldn’t be) — but education and awareness is the only way we can keep getting this message across, particularly with updates and changes occurring.

Q: There have been an increasing number of reports of illegal dumping of asbestos. In your opinion, why is this happening and what could help to solve this problem?

I think it is the cost associated with this that is causing people to resort to illegal dumping — but this is definitely not an excuse. Ultimately, these costs are passed on through the project but companies are trying to improve their margins by saving a few dollars. The recent case in Sydney with the first person jailed under anti-dumping legislation is sure to send a clear message though — as it needed to.

Q: Do you agree with the short-term suggestion by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency to try to contain and stabilise ageing asbestos, particularly in roofing, in place rather than removing it?

In relation to the ASEA suggestion around management of asbestos, if we follow the hierarchy of controls, elimination is always the preferred control measure. However, the risk can be appropriately managed if asbestos is maintained in good condition. Costly and complicated removal projects may present increased risks during the removal process — particularly in relation to asbestos roofs. Additional control measures such as sealing/encapsulation, regular inspections and air monitoring programs can all provide risk reduction while the longer-term strategy of removal (elimination) can be planned and budgeted. There are also some newer innovative methods coming to market making roof removals safer and more cost-effective. I think this will greatly contribute to the longer-term removal/elimination strategies and making it more viable.

To hear more from Steven Hains, who has over 15 years of industry experience, register for a delegate pass for the National Safety Conference, which is part of SAFETYconnect. The event is being held this year at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre from 29–30 August.

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