Disaster clean-up company fined $6000 over asbestos dangers

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Wednesday, 13 January, 2021 - 12:45
Incidents & prosecutions

A Gold Coast company specialising in disaster clean-up and repair has been fined $6,000 for three offences around working with asbestos, including the removal of more than 10 square metres of asbestos containing material (ACM) without holding an asbestos removal licence or authorisation.

The company pleaded guilty this week to breaching the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 by performing unlicensed asbestos removal work, failing in its duty to limit the use of certain equipment and allowing an employee to do work involving asbestos.

The Brisbane Magistrates Court heard the defendant company worked on water and storm damaged properties.

On 22 February 2018, a worker doing repair work on a home after a pipe burst and had obtained approval from the company to drop and remove water effected ceiling sheeting with a hammer and chisel.

A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation revealed another worker had then identified the sheeting could contain asbestos so they contacted the company and work was stopped until appropriate testing could be done.

The workers put on personal protective equipment and wrapped the ceiling sheets in double layered black plastic bin liners and sealed the bag with tape before they vacuumed the remaining dust and debris.

The ceiling sheets were taken to the company’s workplace, where they remained until disposed of at an approved waste management facility. Tests determined asbestos was present in the ceiling and adjoining areas.

The WHSQ investigation revealed the insurer had issued a “make safe authority” to the company the day before, indicating asbestos was present, but the information was not passed on to the workers.

In sentencing, Magistrate Tina Previtera considered the defendant company’s early plea, and its cooperation with the WHSQ investigation, accepting the mitigation measures put in place following the event, including asbestos awareness training.

Magistrate Previtera observed that if the defendant had paid attention to the “make safe authority” it would not have breached the law.

A fine of $6,000 and costs of nearly $1,600 were imposed, with no conviction recorded.