Queensland has strong laws protecting workers and the community from asbestos risks, with an ongoing campaign by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland targeting unsafe work practices.
WHSQ over the last two years has launched 36 investigations into high-risk asbestos activities, such as using high-pressure water on asbestos materials, demolishing structures without first removing the asbestos and removing asbestos from domestic premises without controls. Action has also been taken over the removal of asbestos without an appropriate asbestos removal licence and illegal burying of asbestos waste.
Ignoring asbestos laws and putting people at risk can result in stiff penalties, including on-the-spot fines, with clean-up costs exceeding $100,000. In the last 12 months, WHSQ has cancelled five asbestos removal licences and suspended three others over unsafe and incompetent asbestos removal. Another eight licence holders are currently being assessed.
Enforcement action has been in response to unsafe and incompetent work practices, such as inadequate controls to suppress airborne asbestos fibres, poor training and allowing unauthorised people to enter an asbestos removal area. Other breaches include not notifying WHSQ of intended asbestos removal, storing asbestos waste at their own residence and leaving asbestos dust and debris after removal work has been completed.
The crackdown is ongoing, with a specialist asbestos team enforcing compliance with state laws, as well as educating employers and providing technical support to help address community asbestos concerns. A summary of asbestos related licence sanctions, prosecutions and some of the on-the-spot fines is at www.asbestos.qld.gov.au
WHSQ makes no apologies for this tough approach as new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year—a legacy of past exposure. More than 700 new cases of mesothelioma were reported to the Australian Mesothelioma Registry with a diagnosis date in 2017 - that's almost two a day.
Asbestos risk controls must be used each and every time work is done on asbestos—find out more at asbestos.qld.gov.au. You can also watch a film on the dangers of using high-pressure water on asbestos containing materials at youtube.com/watch?v=vpjIW91Lb3c.