Nu Tech Demolition & Asbestos Removal Pty Ltd last week pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court to one charge of failing to reduce the risk of a fall from height so far as was reasonably practicable, and another charge of failing to ensure that the workplace was safe and without risks to health.
The company was sentenced to pay fines of $39,000 and ordered to pay costs of $16,641.
In a separate prosecution, Nu Tech was fined $25,500 and ordered to pay $3,999 costs after asbestos fibres were found at a residential site in Watsonia North in May 2021.
The company pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court last week to one charge of failing to eliminate or reduce the exposure of airborne asbestos fibres, and second charge of failing to produce documents to an inspector.
WorkSafe attended the site after a member of the public reported possible asbestos fibres coming from cement sheeting and debris being loaded into a skip bin by an excavator.
Work was directed to cease immediately. Police were called to the workplace and when workers attempted to use a truck to remove the loaded skip, they blocked it from leaving.
Shortly after WorkSafe issued a non-disturbance notice and secured the site with temporary fencing, workers returned, ripped the fencing gate open and removed the truck and skip.
Police were unable to locate the truck and skip but samples collected onsite by a hygienist later tested positive for both friable and non-friable asbestos. The company subsequently failed to respond to a WorkSafe notice to produce numerous documents.
The Court also heard that in February 2020, a WorkSafe inspector visited a multi-storey demolition site in Parkville after an anonymous report and observed four workers working at height without harnesses or other fall protection.
WorkSafe attended another Nu Tech demolition site in Brunswick East in March 2020 where four workers were observed working near unprotected edges at heights of up to 10 metres. A Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) produced by the company did not include control measures to address the risk of a fall from height.
On a follow-up visit, a worker was seen standing on an excavator bucket three metres above the ground. A Nu Tech manager told inspectors that spare scaffolding and an elevated work platform available onsite were not used as it was a “five minute job.” Two other workers were observed on mobile scaffold with inadequate hand rails.
The Court heard Nu Tech failed to reduce the serious risk of injury or death to the workers from a fall of more than two metres by ensuring anchored harnesses were worn or passive fall prevention, such as perimeter guardrails and scaffolding, was installed.
Nu Tech also failed to reduce the risk of a fall from the incomplete mobile scaffold by ensuring that complete guardrails were in place and that a SWMS was prepared.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer warned employers of the potentially deadly consequences of not taking falls from height and asbestos risks seriously.
“Falls are one of the biggest killers in Victorian workplaces and a lax attitude towards working at height, as we saw this in case, is a serious risk to safety,” Dr Beer said.
“Inhalation of asbestos fibres can lead to severe and sometimes deadly diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
“It’s extremely shameful that this company not only put workers and the public at risk of asbestos exposure, but also refused to cooperate with WorkSafe throughout the process.”
To prevent falls from height employers should first:
- Consider if they can eliminate the risk by doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction.
If that is not possible, they should use:
- A passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms.
- A positioning system, such as a travel-restraint system.
- A fall arrest system, such as a catch platform or safety nets.
- A fixed or portable ladder or implement administrative controls.
When engaged in asbestos removal work, employers must remember:
- Domestic premises become workplaces when a person or company has been engaged to carry out work.
- Asbestos removal work must be performed by an asbestos removal licence holder and/or their employees who are appropriately trained and instructed to perform the removal work safely.
- Unlicensed removal of limited amounts of asbestos is permitted in certain circumstances only.
- Asbestos removal work must comply with strict safety requirements. Some of these are the use of protective clothing and equipment, decontamination facilities, waste disposal procedures, employee medical examinations, the use of signs and barricades and the preparation of an asbestos control plan.