A Newburn based firm has learnt the hard way that failing to identify the hazard of asbestos to its employees carries severe consequences.
The company in Western Australia was handed a $5500 fine and ordered to pay costs after it failed to recognise the presence of potentially deadly asbestos at one of its Queens Park based worksites.
The charges, which the company pleaded guilty to included failing to identify the presence of asbestos (which should have been done before work commenced on the site) and a failure to post the appropriate warning signs at areas containing asbestos.
According to reports in the media and online, the company which conducts geochemical services failed to identify the presence of asbestos on its’ Queens Park site however the discovery was made during an inspection conducted in June 2010. During the inspection asbestos was found throughout different sections of the building and later an asbestos assessment commissioned by the company confirmed this to be true.
Asbestos is often discovered on work sites particularly when renovation work, excavation, revamps etc. are being carried out because it was commonly used in the past. Although its further use has been banned for decades, people on work sites throughout Oz are often exposed when the material containing asbestos becomes worn and releases these fibres into the air, to be inhaled by workers, potentially threatening their lives.
In light of this incident, the WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch issued a reminder to all employers to ensure that they identify the presence of asbestos in worksites prior to work commencing so that employees aren’t exposed. McCulloch was quoted as saying:
“Unfortunately there is still a lot of asbestos in WA, and our workplace safety and health laws require that the presence and location of asbestos in workplaces is identified for everyone’s safety,” Mr McCulloch said.
“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.
McCulloch warned other employers that although this type of prosecution was rare, and in fact this was the first one under this section of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations, employers who were guilty of the same lack of action in asbestos identification and handling should expect similar consequences. All those responsible including the employer, principal contractor, property manager and/or building owner have to ensure they are doing their part to identify and deal with asbestos.
He went on to explain:
“Information about the presence and location of asbestos also needs to be made available to anyone who enters that workplace so the relevant precautions can be taken.
“Asbestos products do not pose a risk to health if they are left undisturbed in buildings, however there is a serious risk of exposure to asbestos fibres if asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, unless basic safety precautions are followed.
This issue is particularly relevant to Australian workers because we suffer from some of the highest numbers of asbestos related disease in the world.