How to manage asbestos in the workplace

Electrical company fined $20,000 for failing to manage asbestos in the workplace

Do you know how to manage asbestos in the workplace?

Recently, an electrical company was sentenced to a category 3 offence under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), regarding its management of asbestos in the workplace.  

The employer failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty under section 19(1) of the Act, which states a PCBU must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers engaged, caused to be engaged by the person, and workers who activities are influenced or directed by the person.

In this case, the defendant was subcontracted by the principal contractor of the project to supply and install air-conditioning units and further subcontracted the mechanical installation work to another company. The defendant was aware of the presence of asbestos and was provided with an asbestos register. The defendant had prepared a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS), which was signed by workers, detailing how work involving asbestos was to be conducted and set out control measures for managing asbestos risks. However, the defendant failed to implement these control measures to manage the risk of asbestos, such as PPE, a decontamination process and isolation of the work area. They also did not ensure that workers were adequately trained, instructed, and provided with all relevant information about implementing those measures.

In sentencing the defendant, her honour referred to the How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace Code of Practice 2011, observing that it would have been best practice for the defendant to have requested for the sheeting containing asbestos to be removed.

How to manage asbestos in the workplace

The Code of Practice about How to Manage Asbestos in the workplace addresses the risks asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACM) present and lays out a set of guidelines and requirements of how to manage asbestos in the workplace.

Key steps in managing risks as identified in the code:

  • Identify hazards – A person with management or control of a workplace must ensure so far as reasonably practicable that a competent person, meaning someone who has the relevant training, qualifications, or experience, identifies all asbestos or ACM in the workplace. If there is not a person within the business who is competent then an external competent person should be sourced. Identified hazards should be recorded in the asbestos register. When undertaking asbestos-related work, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) is also required to find out what else could cause harm.
  • Assess risks – A PCBU is responsible for assessing the risk of exposure to airborne asbestos. A PCBU is also required to understand the nature of harm other identified hazards could cause including how serious it is and the likelihood of it occurring.
  • Eliminate risks – A PCBU must always aim to eliminate risk and associated risk first, so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Control risks— if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, control measures must be implemented in accordance with the hierarchy of control measures.
  • Review control measures – A person with management or control of a workplace is responsible for monitoring and reviewing control measures to ensure they remain effective and are working as planned.

By implementing the measures outlined in the Asbestos Code of Practice, employers can significantly reduce the risks of Asbestos in the workplace, protecting the health and safety of workers.

If you need assistance with preparing a SWMS, or more info on how to manage asbestos in the workplace, get in touch with our team today on 07 5655 4048.

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