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Contravention of a non-disturbance notice and unlawful asbestos removal costs company $7,000 in fines


13 November 2020

At a recent hearing in the Southport Magistrates Court, a local business was fined a total of $7,000 for failing to comply with a non-disturbance notice without reasonable excuse and directing or allowing a worker to remove over 10m2 of asbestos containing material when it didn’t not hold an appropriate licence.

The company had previously held an asbestos removal licence, but a decision was made not to renew it in August 2018 based on previous non-compliance issues.

In January 2019, the defendant was engaged to demolish a property in Mermaid Waters, which included the removal of 70 square metres of asbestos eaves.

Following up a complaint, a Workplace Health and Safety Queensland inspector attended the site. On 11 February 2019, the inspector issued a non-disturbance notice asit was suspected asbestos containing material (ACM) had been found. The notice was in effect until 6:30am on 16 February and required the defendant to secure the site and stop work, including demolition and operation of plant, and ensure workers were told not to enter the site. On 12 February, in contravention of that notice, the defendant’s operations manager attended the site and collected some tools, including an excavator bucket.

Work resumed at the site after the notice expired. Sometime between 16 and 22 February, the defendant directed a worker who held asbestos removal qualifications to remove the eaves. In accordance with that instruction, the worker removed at least 53.5m2 of material from the eaves, which subsequently turned out to be ACM. The defendant had not contracted this ACM removal to another company and that worker did not hold a class A and B asbestos removal licence.

In sentencing, Magistrate Pamela Dowse acknowledged asbestos is a serious matter, with there being a lot of costs associated with its safe removal. Her Honour acknowledged this removal work would have been of concern to the neighbours. Magistrate Dowse noted the worker who did the asbestos removal work had appropriate qualifications, but the defendant should have, in any event, done something about its lack of licence and engaged a company which held one.

The entry by the defendant’s operations manager onto the site in contravention of the non-disturbance notice was observed to be harmless, with no further work being done at that time. Her Honour observed that a warning should have at least been provided to the WHSQ inspector.

Magistrate Dowse had regard to the quite severe maximum penalties for this offending and accepted there was a need for general deterrence and specific deterrence, given the business had not been adopting ‘best practice’. Her Honour took into account a plea of guilty and the defendant’s co-operation with the investigation, including a voluntary interview. Magistrate Dowse also acknowledged the defendant was experiencing difficult times financially and had been impacted by COVID-19.

The defendant company was fined a total of $7,000, with no conviction recorded.

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