Big news this month as Dib Hanna becomes the first person in NSW to be given a prison sentence under the 2014 anti-dumping laws described in the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation.

The crime

Hanna has a long history of brazenly dumping asbestos around Sydney and had, until now, got off with fines and a suspended prison sentence. This time, with the 2014 legislation well in place, he was not so fortunate.

Hanna had done a letter drop to various Sydney residents offering free clean topsoil, clay, crushed bitumen, shale and the use of an excavation machine.

What he actually ended up delivering to the properties was 461 tonnes of waste including pipe, rubble, terracotta, ash, wood, fibre cement sheeting and asbestos.

The punishment

After his extradition from Victoria, the NSW Land and Environment Court sentenced Dib Hanna to three years in prison with a non-parole period of two years and 3 months for one charge of illegal transport of waste and four counts of illegal dumping of waste.

In addition, Hanna has been ordered to clean up the waste, pay the legal costs of the NSW Land and Environment Court and make a series of newspaper advertisements about his crimes to publish as a deterrent to others.

Illegal dumping of asbestos puts the health and wellbeing of the community and the environment at risk and this penalty sends a strong message that it will not be tolerated.

The message

It won’t be news to anyone reading this that the illegal transportation and dumping of asbestos is a criminal act and a quick review of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation will reveal the slew of breaches Hanna made. But even those of us who work in the industry were pretty surprised to see someone jailed for these crimes. It is as serious a message from the Land and Environment Court regarding asbestos as we have seen – and we welcome it. Given his history, this has been a long time coming for Hanna, and anyone who knows what a horrendous blight asbestos can be on health and the environment will be cheering to see this serial dumper finally getting his just desserts.

What does it have to do with work health and safety?

Whether you are an individual or a PCBU, your responsibility to manage the handling, transport and removal of asbestos is a serious one and the example above shows us that the courts mean business when it comes to flouting laws around asbestos. So it has never been more important to have yours and/or your staffs’ training up to date and to ensure that whomever is conducting work on your behalf must be following the relevant rules. If you know the rules regarding asbestos management but the people who work for you don’t, then chances are things are going to go wrong at some point.

Homeowners – what’s worse: the health risk or the legal risk? Don’t take either!

Despite the success of asbestos awareness campaigns, home renovators continue to put themselves and their families at risk via exposure to asbestos. Home renovations shows like The Block have seen a surge in the popularity of the DIY approach to renovations and experts are concerned that we are to see more asbestos deaths related to home renovations. In 2016 the Public Health, Research and Practice Journal released a study that found about six in 10 mesothelioma sufferers had done major home renovations involving asbestos materials. The worry is that the trend will continue and even increase. In this light, Hanna’s reckless disregard for the wellbeing of the people he targeted is all the more horrifying.

Don’t risk it. Asbestos-related diseases are not only suffered by tradies and big company workers – homeowners are the third wave of potential victims. Know what to look for and how to deal with it safely but getting trained today.

If you still need a good reason to resist illegal dumping of potentially contaminated material in the process of your renovations, then check out the EPA’s latest set of fines issued to those who got busted. And as we now know, a fine could be the least of your worries.

Employers – safety or bust

The legislation couldn’t be clearer: your responsibility is to provide a safe working environment and reduce the risk of harm to health and wellbeing as much as possible. Your responsibility to the environment is equally important. Thanks to a robust asbestos awareness campaign, employers are now aware of their ethical and legal obligations to their workers. But when it comes to the environment and the greater community, breaches are still all too common. The penalty points are there in black and white, but perhaps it will take the example of someone like Dib Hanna to show that mismanagement of something as serious as asbestos will be met with something as serious as prison.