WHSQ issues asbestos clean-up warning following storm damage

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.
Tuesday, 7 January, 2020 - 16:30
Industry news
National News

Workplace Health & Safety Queensland (WHSQ) recently issued a reminder about the risks of working safely with asbestos following significant storm damage to old buildings containing asbestos.

The regulator said Queensland laws prohibit the use of some power tools and work methods on asbestos-containing materials, as they can generate airborne fibres which are hazardous to health.

Fines and clean-up fees also apply for breaching these laws, and WHSQ said a PCBU must not use, direct, or allow a worker to use high-pressure spray-on asbestos-containing materials.

In the past six years, WHSQ inspectors have looked into 34 events involving high-pressure cleaning of asbestos-containing materials, and most of these involved a PCBU cleaning an asbestos roof on a home before painting.

During the same period, WHSQ issued 12 improvement notices, 17 prohibition notices and 10 infringement notices (on the spot fines) relating to cleaning asbestos-containing materials with high-pressure equipment.

In one instance, a sole trader was fined $750 with a 12-month good behaviour bond and recognisance of $1000 after a worker used a high-pressure water spray on a super six type asbestos roof.

Asbestos contaminated dust or debris scattered across the yard, as well as onto two neighbouring properties.

In addition to the court-imposed penalties, the defendant also faced clean-up costs in excess of $18,000.

In another incident, two separate sole traders were fined $750 each with 12-month good behaviour bonds and recognisance of $1000, after using high-pressure water spray on asbestos-containing roofs.

The sole traders also faced clean-up costs of $50,000 and $35,000.

If a building was constructed before 1990, it is likely asbestos will be present in roofing and other sheet materials and WHSQ said cleaning up after a storm can be dangerous if not done properly.

WHSQ has published a short film on how to avoid damaging or disturbing asbestos on your roof and keep your workers and neighbours safe from dangerous fibres.

The film also warns against using near infrared handheld analysers to identify asbestos-containing materials as they do not meet the requirements of work health and safety legislation.