Employers are legally required to identify any asbestos-containing material in a workplace. Asbestos removal licence holders are required to notify WorkSafe prior to any removal works, display appropriate signage, and ensure workers are wearing personal protective equipment during its removal.
Employers must also arrange medical examinations for all workers engaged in ongoing asbestos-related activities where there is a risk to exposure to airborne asbestos fibres in excess of the exposure standard.
Licensed asbestos removalists must arrange medical checks for all workers tasked with asbestos removal.
The importance of ensuring asbestos in a workplace is identified and, where necessary, safely removed is underscored by the tragic death of 64-year-old plumber Neil Woolard to mesothelioma last year.
The death of Mr Woolard devastated his partner Monica Ghirxi.
In a WorkSafe video to promote asbestos awareness, Ms Ghirxi says she wanted to honour Mr Woolard by making as many people as possible aware of mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer caused by inhaling or ingesting asbestos.
“It’s more common than people think and you need to go and get yourself checked if you are in that field,” she says.
“This doesn’t just affect Neil, it’s affected all of us. He lived life to the fullest and it was taken away from him through no fault of his own. He worked so hard, he loved his job, he loved plumbing, he was so good at it, and it destroyed him.”
Ms Ghirxi implores anyone who, like her husband, may have been exposed to asbestos-containing material to get checked by a medical professional.
“If your loved one won’t go and get checked, you need to push them to get checked and tell them it’s just not all about them, it’s about you as well,” Ms Ghirxi says.
“So as a wife, as a spouse, as a partner, as a child, make sure the person that you love looks after them self at work, and gets them self checked for mesothelioma.”
Ms Ghirxi’s plea coincides with Asbestos Awareness Week (21-27 November), which this year carries the theme Think Twice About Asbestos and asks businesses to “do it the right way” by ensuring the proper and lawful disposal of asbestos-containing material.
Despite the dangers, WorkSafe continues to catch employers flouting the rules.
Recent asbestos-related prosecutions include:
- Bayside Demolition Pty Ltd: fined $25,000 after, among other things, it failed to ensure workers were wearing required personal protective equipment for asbestos removal, and for a lack of barricading and appropriate signage.
- Fivestar Demolition & Render Pty Ltd: fined $20,000 after a director of the company – which was not a licensed asbestos removalist – ordered workers to demolish a house before asbestos-containing material was removed as required under OHS regulations and against the direction of the site’s principal contractor.
- Carton Finishing Pty Ltd: fined $20,000 after it failed to ensure that the presence and location of asbestos in its workplace was clearly indicated.
WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety Narelle Beer said asbestos-containing material remained a significant safety risk.
“Asbestos Awareness Week is a time for employers to take stock of their obligations regarding asbestos and ensure they are not putting any workers or members of the public at risk,” Dr Beer said.
“The ramifications for not following the rules can include serious disease or even death, which is why WorkSafe regularly conducts proactive asbestos inspections.”