Disgraceful disregard for safety in asbestos work safety fine

A house painter’s failure to protect his workers and the public from asbestos has been labelled disgraceful by a Brisbane magistrate.

The defendant recently was fined $3000 after pleading guilty to three charges in the Brisbane Magistrates Court. The charges related to breaches of Queensland’s workplace safety laws by failing to ensure the health and safety of others and directing or allowing a worker to use a high-pressure water spray on asbestos or asbestos containing material.

He also was penalised for not complying with an improvement notice, with the $48,291.09 cost to clean and make safe the property and its neighbours left to the Queensland Government.

The court heard that the defendant breached the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and regulation while painting a Norman Park house, which he was aware contained asbestos. He also did not hold a current QBCC trade contractor’s licence after failing to renew.

Work commenced on 21 February 2019 when witnesses saw a worker cleaning the roof using water and a subsequent ‘muddy splotchy’ substance adhering to a neighbour’s external wall. In response to complaints, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland inspectors found that the roof was corrugated asbestos cement sheeting.

Testing revealed asbestos contamination caused by high-pressure water spray blasting of the roof. The defendant received an improvement notice to make the property safe and ensure all asbestos was contained, labelled and disposed of, which did not happen.

In sentencing, Magistrate Michael Quinn observed the seriousness of the offending, particularly as the safety of the community was put at risk. Magistrate Quinn was of the view that the defendant’s conduct was very close to a wilful disregard of his duties and responsibilities.

Note:

Low density asbestos fibre board (LDB) will be classed as a friable asbestos containing material from 1 May. LDB is a lightly compressed board which looks like cement sheeting or plasterboard but crumbles easily (friable) and can release asbestos fibres into the air. A class A licensed asbestos removalist must be engaged to remove LDB from a property.

Read further information on asbestos.

The magistrate also commented that the defendant’s behaviour in receiving $6000 for the work, failing to repay any portion of it, and subsequently claiming he was impecunious, was an aggravating factor as it demonstrated a near callous disregard for the safety of the public. He had regard to the difficulties the defendant suffered as a migrant and in speaking English.

When considering the penalty to be imposed, the magistrate took into account the defendant’s difficult financial circumstances and the fact he was paying a $6500 fine related to his unlawful conduct in carrying out work without the appropriate licence. He said the defendant’s conduct was ‘disgraceful’ and imposed a $3000 fine and costs of $1000.

No conviction was recorded.

More prosecutions are at owhsp.qld.gov.au

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