In February 2019, a painting contractor used a high-pressure water blaster on a corrugated asbestos cement roof, commonly known as a super six roof. Asbestos contaminated dust and debris (ACD) was distributed throughout the grounds of the domestic residence and onto two neighbouring domestic residences.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland undertook immediate compliance action against the contractor to remediate the site at a cost of $70,000.
Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Queensland laws prohibit the use of certain tools and work methods when working with asbestos-containing materials (ACM) as they can generate dangerous airborne asbestos fibres. A PCBU has a duty to ensure that workers and others are not exposed to the risk of airborne asbestos.
The person with management or control of the workplace (PMCW) must take all reasonable steps to ensure that any ACM has been identified at the workplace. If the PMCW cannot identify ACM, but a competent person reasonably believes materials may contain asbestos, then the PMCW must assume asbestos is present.
PCBUs must manage the risks associated with asbestos-related work, both to themselves and others. Cleaning an asbestos cement sheeting roof with a high-pressure water spray can destroy the roof surface, causing cement debris and asbestos to spray into the air and result in widespread contamination.
Higher order risk controls should include, but are not limited to, the provision and maintenance of a safe system of work and compliance with the requirements to prepare and maintain an asbestos register (where applicable). PCBUs should prepare and document safe work method statements (SWMS) for work that involves or is likely to involve, the disturbance of asbestos.
Managing the risks associated with asbestos involves:
- identifying asbestos and ACM at the site
- assessing the risk of exposure to airborne asbestos
- eliminating or minimising the risks by implementing suitable control measures
- reviewing control measures to ensure they are effective.
A PCBU must not use, direct or allow a worker to use, high-pressure spray on asbestos or ACM. When working on buildings constructed before 1990, it is likely asbestos will be present in roofing and other sheet materials used in the construction of the building. Control measures that may be considered to prevent airborne asbestos fibres include:
- not disturbing roofing materials that may contain asbestos
- not using a high-pressure water spray or any other powered equipment to clean an asbestos roof
- using a chemical fungicide, sealant, and then acrylic roof paint
- replacing the ACM materials or roof sheeting following the How to Safely Remove Asbestos Code of Practice 2011.
It is essential that workers know how to identify and work safely with asbestos. A PCBU must provide information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out with asbestos.
Between July 2013 and April 2019, we responded to 33 events involving the high-pressure cleaning of ACM. The majority of these events involved a PCBU cleaning an asbestos roof of a domestic premises.
During the same period, we issued 32 statutory notices specifically related to cleaning asbestos containing materials with high-pressure equipment.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2018, a sole trader was fined $1,000 with a good behaviour bond for a period of 12 months with recognisance of $1,000, after they sprayed an ACM roof with a hydrochloride solution and a 'whirl-a-way' surface cleaner attached to a high-pressure washer. The sole trader was contracted to clean the roof of a residential premises by a painting company prior to painting. As a result, three adjacent residential properties were contaminated with a slurry of ACM. The person who subcontracted the work was also prosecuted in relation to the incident, with the Magistrate commenting the PCBU holds responsibilities to ensure the work was completed safely. They also received a $1,000 fine.
In July 2017, a sole trader was fined $750 with a good behaviour bond for a period of 12 months with recognisance of $1,000, after a worker used a high-pressure water spray on a super six type asbestos roof. The sole trader was contracted to clean and paint the house with the super six type asbestos roof, and tasked his apprentice with getting on the roof and using a high-pressure water blaster. From this activity, asbestos contaminated dust or debris scattered across the yard and two neighbouring properties. In addition to penalties imposed by the court the defendant also faced clean-up costs exceeding $18,000.
In 2014, two separate sole traders were fined $750 each with good behaviour bonds for a period of 12 months with recognisance of $1,000 after using high-pressure water spray on ACM roofs. In addition to penalties imposed by the court, the sole traders also faced clean-up costs of $50,000 and $35,000.
- How to safely remove asbestos code of practice 2021 (PDF, 2.22 MB)
- How to manage and control asbestos in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.99 MB)
- Demolition work code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.66 MB)
- Removing or disturbing asbestos