Asbestos awareness training is now mandatory for all employees in the Australian Capital Territory likely to come across this dangerous material during the undertaking of their work.

From September 30 this year, any employee working in the occupations identified by Attorney-General Simon Corbell without the required qualifications will be liable for penalties up to $6,000. Additionally, the employer or company responsible for the worker will also face fines up to $30,000.

This mandatory training announcement is expected to affect around 12,000 workers in at least 64 occupations across the ACT. These requirements apply not only to supervisors but from apprentices and trainees up every level of an onsite organisation.

While construction workers are the main focus of this announcement, individuals from a huge range of occupations are required to take part in training. All employees undertaking work on homes and properties, including plumbers, landscapers, locksmiths and cleaners, are expected to participate in training. Mechanics working with brake lines are also included within the requirements.

The law goes far beyond this list, impacting on anyone an employer has reason to believe will work with asbestos materials. Some circumstances will even extend to people working in the vicinity of asbestos, such as interior designers conducting in-home consultation of pre-1990 homes during renovations.

Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe told the Canberra times that the responsibility would be on the employers to ensure their workers access the required training. However, this onus could leave gaps in various industries.

''The problem area in particular is going to be subcontractors. The big companies pretty much understand it and they've done a lot of work in this space, but it will take a while for all the small employers to get their head around it," he said.

Mr McCabe welcomed the introduction of mandatory training in the ACT as a positive step forward for Australian OHS standards. He believes that other states and territories should be watching and taking notice of the ACT's lead.

The benefits of mandatory asbestos awareness training

An example of how asbestos awareness training can help improve occupational health and safety (OHS) standards in various industries was recently seen by the Brisbane Magistrates Court. While many people believe only builders and other construction workers can benefit from asbestos qualifications, training may have helped a Queensland painter avoid significant fines.

This painter is facing a potential $50,000 penalty in response to unsafe use of a high-pressure water spray unit on an asbestos roof. The clean-up bill, which could reach $100,000, covers the removal of dangerous asbestos fibres from the customer's and neighbouring roofs.

Painters and roof cleaners are warned that where there is exposure to risks from asbestos contamination, they must use methods that do not release asbestos fibres into the air. Fortunately, asbestos awareness training can ensure that painters and relevant workers are able to easily identify the surfaces that may contain the material, enabling them to enact proper procedures.

Similarly, in Western Australia, a company was fined last month simply for failing to identify the presence of asbestos in with workplace. WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch explained that local work health and safety (WHS) laws require employers and building managers to record the presence and location of any asbestos on an official register.

"In this case, although the company did make some attempt to address the asbestos issue at its other workplaces, it did not ensure that information about asbestos at its workplaces was passed along to all relevant parties, including any outside contractors who worked at their sites," Mr McCulloch said in a media release.

"If a building may contain asbestos, everyone having any control has a responsibility to ensure that it is documented – from the employer, main contractor or self-employed person to the building owner or property manager."

As well as keeping an official register on site, information about the presence of asbestos is also required to be shared with anyone who enters the workplace, to ensure relevant precautions and measures can be put in place.

Training and licences in Australia

Buildings built before 1990 would probably contain asbestos, especially in the eaves, internal and external wall cladding and ceilings, especially in bathrooms and laundries.

The training would ensure workers were confident in identifying asbestos and understood the rules about reporting it, and the risks. Awareness courses on their own, however, would not qualify workers to disturb friable forms of asbestos or materials larger than ten square metres.

To safely undertake the removal of these hazardous materials, Australians in all states and territories are required to hold a Class A or Class B licence. Investing in asbestos removal training ensures that workers are able to conduct this work without risk to themselves and others.

However, understanding the difference between the training is crucial for any worker who may be exposed to asbestos during the undertaking of their employment.

– Asbestos awareness

This competency provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary to accurately identify materials that may contain asbestos. Additionally, training in this area ensures workers understand the risks of exposure and how to act if asbestos is suspected in the workplace.

Training does not qualify workers to remove or disturb asbestos in any way. However, non-friable materials ten square metres or less do not require a removal licence. It is still important that employers supervise any removal work being undertaken, to ensure duties are being carried out in accordance with the WHS regulation 2011.

– Class A asbestos removal

If materials that potentially contain asbestos are in a powder form, or can be crumbled by hand, workers require a Class A licence before undertaking removal work. Additionally, employees who hold this qualification can perform work on any non-friable asbestos greater than ten square metres.

– Class B asbestos removal

Workers undertaking employment with a Class B asbestos removal qualification are able to remove large quantities of non-friable asbestos. This includes the clean-up of any dust or debris associated with the removal but does not cover friable or un-bonded asbestos materials.

– Supervise asbestos removal

Class A asbestos removal work must be directly supervised by a person who hold the supervise asbestos removal and remove friable asbestos training qualifications. This individual must be present at the removal site whenever Class A work is being performed.

If Class B asbestos removal work is being undertaken by more than one employee, a supervisor must be readily available at all times. This could mean the supervisor is onsite or at least contactable by phone and able to arrive at the workplace within 20 minutes, according to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

A Class B supervisor must also hold relevant experience in asbestos removal, as well as a Class A or Class B removal qualification.

This competency is recommended not only for supervisors, but also for any contractors working within the telecommunications industry. Supervise asbestos removal training is often a mandatory course for those working on a Telstra site.

For more information on asbestos awareness and removal training, contact the team at AlertForce. Our nationally recognised removal programs can help increase the safety of your staff, while our online awareness offering ensures employees receive the skills and knowledge they know sooner rather than later.