Builder fined over asbestos contamination

Thursday, 06 August, 2009

South Australian building firm Anton’s Building Design and Construction (ABDC) was convicted and fined in the SA Industrial Court after it pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Act 1986 and one breach of the Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1995.

The two breaches of the Act concern risks to the safety of a labourer employed by the defendant and eight people employed by the hospital. The company breached the regulations by removing asbestos without a licence issued by SafeWork SA.

The incident arose during building renovations at Loxton Hospital in 2006. SafeWork SA was informed that, during the renovation work, the labourer was directed to remove 63 m2 of asbestos-containing vinyl floor sheeting with a cement-grinder.

The court was told that water was used to avoid the creation of dust during the grinding; and the end result was a “slurry of water and ground-up waste”, which was shovelled into a container and removed from the site for disposal elsewhere.

It was found that asbestos residue had nevertheless escaped to nearby areas of the hospital, after leftover portions of slurry had dried and been disturbed by further grinding.

Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke was told of a series of failures by the company, including:

  • No asbestos removal licence,
  • A failure to check the hospital’s own asbestos register,
  • An unsafe system of work (including a lack of personal protective equipment),
  • Inadequate training, instruction and supervision,
  • A failure to eliminate or minimise the generation of asbestos fibres,
  • A failure to adequately seal off other work areas, and
  • An incomplete clean-up.

“The general approach taken by ABDC has been far too casual and not reflective of the insidious dangers posed by asbestos,” Magistrate Lieschke said. “Its approach was not consistent with or responsive to the level of detail provided to it about the nature and specific location of the asbestos in the hospital.”

He fined the company a total of $21,250, having discounted the penalty by 15% to acknowledge the guilty plea. ABDC also met the full cost of decontaminating the site, valued at $25,600.

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