It seems that 2014 is the year of updating Work Health and Safety (WHS) regulations.

All employers and employees need to keep up to date with any changes to both nationwide and local WHS laws in order keep themselves safe and make sure they’re following current best practices.

The following are two examples of important amendments that have been made to WHS laws over the past two months. The latter group of changes will be of particular interest to anyone working in the field of asbestos removal.

Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Queensland)

On February 13, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, the Hon. Jarrod Bleijie MP, announced that a number of significant changes might be made to Queensland’s WHS laws. These were introduced through the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014. They are the result of an extensive review of the Sunshine State’s WHS laws, which began in 2012.

The following are just a few of the changes included in the Bill.

– The penalties for “non-compliance with WHS entry-permit conditions” have been increased.

– A number of penalties for “failure to comply with entry notification requirements” have been introduced.

– Before any person assisting a Health and Safety Representative is permitted to enter a workplace, they are now required to give at least 24 hours (but no more than 14 days) notice of their intentions.

– Health and Safety Representatives in Queensland are no longer allowed to order employees at a workplace to stop conducting “unsafe work”.

– Codes of Practice that are implemented by workplaces across the Sunshine State can now be “approved, varied or revoked” without having to be submitted for consultation at a national level.

– The maximum penalty for offences that fall under the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013 has been increased.

As of February 18, these proposed changes were yet to be decided on by the Queensland Parliament.

Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act (Australia-wide)

Although the regulations outlined in the WHS Act were finalised in November 2011, a number of technical amendments were made to this all-important document on January 9 this year. Safe Work Australia states the changes were made to “correct inadvertent errors, clarify policy intent and address workability issues”.

The workplaces that will be most affected by the amendments include those involving high-risk work, diving, asbestos and other major hazards.

Three of the amendments introduced on January 9 – namely regulations concerning “protective structures on earthmoving machinery”, competency requirements for diving work and design verification – are still awaiting Ministerial approval, reports Safe Work Australia, as their introduction will necessitate policy changes.

Safe Work Australia also notes the changes “do not automatically apply” to workplaces around the country. Rather, each jurisdiction will determine how and when they are introduced through their own law-making processes.

So, what are the changes to the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act that employers and employees need to be aware of?

Quite a few of them revolve around WHS training practices in a range of workplaces.

For instance, the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act now states that high-risk workers are required to undertake “further Vocational Education and Training (VET)” courses by permit regulators.

It also says current requirements that see WHS trainers’ curricula and qualifications being taken into consideration before they’re permitted to offer training to WHS entry permitted holders should be relaxed.

In addition to this, high-risk workers who are waiting for their licence applications to be approved are now allowed to conduct work during the interim, provided they are certified.

Alongside the amendments listed above are a two changes that specifically apply to employers and employees who work with asbestos.

The first, as reported by Mondaq.com, is the removal of the “requirement for supervisors named in Class A asbestos removal licence applications to hold VET course certificates in respect of non-friable asbestos”.

The second involves disapplying “certain asbestos register obligations in respect of residential premises used only for residential purposes”.

It’s the first change, however, that promises to have the biggest impact on those who work with asbestos.

What’s a Class A asbestos removal licence?

According to WorkCover New South Wales, a Class A asbestos removal licence qualifies the business that holds it to remove both friable and non-friable asbestos from a workplace. This business is also permitted to any ACD that is present as a result of the removal process. ACD refers to any dust or debris that has been contaminated with asbestos.

The Class A asbestos removal licence differs from the Class B asbestos removal licence in that the latter only permits the holder to manage and dispose of non-friable asbestos and any related ACD. Once granted, both licences are valid for a total of five years.

To ensure your application for a Class A asbestos removal licence is successful, you are required to meet a number of criteria. Most importantly, your application must include the name or names of “competent person or persons” who you have employed to supervise the asbestos removal work you’re planning to undertake.

This supervisor must be 18 years old or more, says WorkCover New South Wales, and have a minimum of three years’ experience when it comes to removing friable asbestos. They must also have completed a Supervise Asbestos Removal course.

And, until now, they were also required to hold qualifications for non-friable asbestos removal work. This is apparently no longer the case, according to the new Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act.

What’s the difference between friable and non-friable asbestos?

In order to really get to grips with this change to the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) and the different types of asbestos removal licences available, it’s important to understand the difference between friable and non-friable asbestos.

The Department of Commerce reveals that friable asbestos is any version of this deadly material that’s in powder form, or can be “easily crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry”. Some examples of friable asbestos include sprayed insulation, rope and lagging, and “felt or woven asbestos matting”. In general, if a material containing asbestos releases asbestos fibres if and when it’s disturbed, the asbestos is most likely in a friable state.

However, it’s non-friable asbestos that’s more commonly found in properties up and down the country. Approximately 97 per cent of asbestos-containing products feature the non-friable kind, claims the website “Asbestos and You”.

Basically, it’s asbestos that’s been bonded to another material, such as cement, vinyl floor tiles, resin or other products of a similar nature. Such materials will potentially release a few asbestos fibres when they’re damaged or destroyed, but Asbestos and You states they’re unlikely to continue doing so for long.

Where can I find out more?

If you want learn more about the different kinds of asbestos removal training available and ensure you’ve got the necessary VET certificates to apply for a Class A or Class B asbestos removal licence, get in touch with the AlertForce team today!

We offer a range of asbestos removal training courses, including Class B (remove non-friable asbestos), Class A (remove friable asbestos), Supervise Asbestos Removal (for supervisors), and Conduct Asbestos Assessment Associated With Removal qualifications.

WHS laws are always changing – make sure you’re always keeping an ear out for amendments such as those listed above and keep your workers happy and healthy.

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