SA: respirators and health monitoring fall short with asbestos removal

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.
Sunday, 7 November, 2021 - 12:45
Industry news
South Australia

There have been two major areas of non-compliance with licensed asbestos removal practices in South Australia, according to a recent SafeWork SA report.

These areas related to respiratory protection equipment (RPE) not being fit-tested on workers to ensure it creates an effective facial seal to minimise exposure to airborne asbestos fibres, and workers not being provided health monitoring.

A review of SafeWork SA’s records for asbestos-related interventions during 2020 identified that there were 359 concerns raised by workers and the public.

This information and audit findings were used to compile the Asbestos Activity 2020 Health and Safety Snapshot.

The compliance campaign was conducted from May through to July 2021, and during the campaign period, SafeWork SA:

  • conducted 48 audits comprising of 28 per cent of licensed asbestos removalists and 33 per cent of buildings requiring an asbestos register
  • issued 21 statutory notices, consisting of seven prohibition notices and 14 improvement notices
  • cancelled a class B asbestos removalist licence
  • suspended a licensed asbestos assessor.

South Australia is a signatory to the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness 2019-2023 (the NSP). The aim of the NSP is to eliminate asbestos-related diseases in Australia by preventing exposure to asbestos fibres.

SafeWork SA executive director, Martyn Campbell said the licence holders who failed to meet their obligations, particularly with respirator fit testing, placed their workers at serious risk.

“The negative health impacts associated with inhaling airborne asbestos fibres are well known and continued non-compliance towards their removal workers may lead to licence suspensions, cancellations or prosecution,” he said.

“The results are disappointing as licensed asbestos removalists should have a sound understanding of the asbestos legislation and related codes of practice.”

The report also made a number of recommendations, and SafeWork SA will:

  • continue to support the NSP target that ‘all regulators have in place and have implemented asbestos compliance programs
  • communicate the outcome of the campaign to internal and external stakeholders
  • undertake unannounced follow-up audits throughout 2022 with respect to those workplaces requiring an asbestos register to be in place to ensure compliance with asbestos legislation is maintained
  • develop guidance material on fit-testing requirements for negative pressure (tight-fitting) respirators and publish the information on the SafeWork SA and asbestos websites.