Safe Work Australia has published a case study highlighting the duty of a PCBU or sole trader in managing safe work around asbestos.
Targeting the construction industry, the case study focuses on the owner of a handyman business, with more than 25 years’ trades experience.
Every day, Bob is required to attend residential properties to do his job. As a sole trader, he is also considered a PCBU and has a duty under work health and safety laws to minimise the risks to his workers’ health. Major risks Bob encounters in his line of work include invisible dusts, gases, fumes, vapours, mists and microorganisms circulating into the air during the work process.
It is a legal requirement for commercial workplaces to keep hazardous chemical registers. However, most residential homeowners don’t have to do that, and occupants may not be aware there are airborne hazards. Bob knows there’s a risk of exposure to asbestos dust at older houses as asbestos-containing building products were used in residential construction before 1990.
The case study looks at the use of personal protective equipment as a control measure to minimise the risks of exposure, noting that asbestos containing building products do not pose a health and safety risk if left undisturbed. It’s only certain work processes that create asbestos dust which becomes a breathable hazard.
Communication with homeowners is vital to determine if extra precautions are necessary. The case study highlights that it’s illegal to use high-pressure water sprays or compressed air, brooms or anything else that might release asbestos into the air, including cutting or drilling. If there is more than ten square metres of asbestos, Bob must get a contractor with an asbestos removal licence to remove it. If he suspects there is asbestos in the air, particularly inside, he needs to control the use of power tools and isolate the area to minimise the spread of asbestos dust. And if he suspects there materials contain asbestos, but is not sure, he will leave it for identification and removal by someone with an asbestos removal licence.
The case study shows the importance of monitoring and ongoing review, as well as training and being familiar with the process of developing asbestos registers and asbestos management plans. Procedures for incidents and emergencies involving asbestos, including who is responsible for what action, must be regularly reviewed and refreshed.
Most importantly, PCBUs and sole traders must understand the regulations for identifying and managing asbestos risks in the workplace. As asbestos dust is invisible, Bob also needs to make sure he is monitoring his own health regularly through health checks as an ongoing control measure.