Any company involved in building demolition, renovations or construction must go through proper training courses regarding the safe removal and disposal of materials containing asbestos. This is a heat-resistant material that was heavily used in residential and commercial construction prior to the 1980s. It was used as insulation inside buildings as well as in wallboard, roofing shingles and indoor tile.
While asbestos was championed as an affordable material that resists and traps in heat naturally, it also releases fibres that are invisible to the eye which collect inside the lungs. Inhalation of those fibres is now linked to the development a form of cancer known as mesothelioma as well as other life-threatening diseases.
It can take more than 20 years for victims to start showing symptoms of disease, and Australians die from asbestos mesothelioma every year. Although the use of any material containing asbestos in the construction of residential or commercial buildings was banned in Australia in 2003, there are many structures built in earlier years that still contain these materials. When these materials are encountered during renovation, demolition or property maintenance, they must be removed and disposed of safely so that fibres aren’t released into the air.
When governmental regulations regarding the removal of asbestos aren’t followed carefully, the lives of all people in the area are put in danger. This is why companies are now working through the certification process to qualify as approved asbestos-removal professionals. Companies, contractors and individuals without the proper certification must call an approved professional if they believe a material containing asbestos is found during the course of a project.
Loopholes and Misconceptions about Removal
The ACT government is now taking action to close loopholes and bust myths surrounding one particular rule included in asbestos-removal regulation. The rule states that certified, approved asbestos-removal professionals must be called for all projects involving the removal of more than 10 square metres of asbestos-containing material.
For years, many companies have interpreted this to mean they can remove up to 10 square metres of asbestos materials without any training. This means that many companies have allowed uncertified, untrained workers and supervisors to remove small amounts of asbestos materials without contacting a qualified professional to oversee the work. This puts Australians in danger because even small amounts of asbestos-containing materials can release dangerous fibres into the air.
Taking it even further, some companies interpret the rule to mean that they can remove up to 10 square metres of asbestos materials per day. If a project takes 40 days to complete, that means the company may remove up to 400 square metres of asbestos without the supervision of a qualified professional before the end of the project.
Builders, contractors and other workers involved in the removal and disposal of asbestos materials have abused this rule either intentionally or out of ignorance for many years, but the ACT government is closing the loophole and clearing up any misunderstandings.
What Does the Rule Really Mean?
The rule was intended to allow uncertified workers to remove small amounts of asbestos materials when encountered over the course of a larger project. Workers are still required to receive some training in the handling and removal of these materials, even if they don’t obtain their certification or diploma in work health and safety.
The intention was never to allow uncertified and untrained workers to accept jobs removing any amount of asbestos materials. Companies have been carrying out this work without the proper training and without meeting other legal qualifications due to this one rule, and that is what the ACT government is now correcting.
The New Asbestos Removal Rules
The ACT government is making the following changes to ensure the safety of all Australians:
- All asbestos removalists and assessors will be licensed through Worksafe. All company oversight will be completed by Worksafe as well, ensuring the asbestos-removal industry is closely monitored with the strict standards currently experienced by other high-risk industries.
- New workers handling asbestos in Canberra must contact Worksafe so that their first project can be approved. This will ensure that workers moving into the area have received the proper training, are licensed and are handling these dangerous materials in line with the government’s expectations.
- Worksafe must receive advanced notification from companies completing projects that involve friable asbestos. This form of asbestos crumbles and breaks easily and is therefore much more likely to contaminate the air with asbestos fibres. These projects are currently reported after the completion of the work, but Worksafe will now demand advanced approval for such jobs.
- Any job requiring the removal of asbestos materials, friable or non-friable, must be completed by a licensed asbestos removalist. This completely does away with the 10 square metre rule, closing that loophole and leaving no room for misunderstandings of the law.
These new rules will go into effect January, 1, 2015, and will change the way many construction and remodelling companies perform their work. This may also lead to an increase in the number of companies investing in asbestos training and certification so that they can employ their own asbestos removalists and assessors.
These new rules go well beyond correcting misunderstandings surrounding the 10 square metre rule. They address a few other problems that have left the asbestos removal industry vulnerable in past years. Once the new rules go into effect, companies will have no choice but to train their workers for the safe removal and disposal of these materials or to connect with licensed asbestos removalists in their area to ensure that these materials are handled legally when identified during the course of a project.
The new rules will also give companies fewer excuses when violations of the rules are discovered or reported. The new rules are straightforward and contain fewer loopholes, so workers will have less room to talk their way out of citations when caught handling these dangerous materials improperly. This will increase business for removalists while decreasing the risk to Australians living near construction sites that contain any amount of asbestos materials.
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