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Work safely with asbestos after summer storms

Keeping your workers safe can be challenging while cleaning up after storm damage to old buildings containing asbestos. Queensland laws prohibit the use of some power tools and work methods on asbestos-containing materials (ACM), as they can generate airborne fibres which are hazardous to health. Fines and clean-up fees apply for breaching these laws.

A PCBU must not use, direct, or allow a worker to use high pressure spray on ACM. In the last six years, WHSQ inspectors have looked into 34 events involving high pressure cleaning of ACM. Most of these involved a PCBU cleaning an asbestos roof on a home before painting.

During the same period, we issued 12 improvement notices, 17 prohibition notices and 10 infringement notices (on the spot fines) relating to cleaning asbestos containing materials with high pressure equipment.

In one instance, a sole trader was fined $750 with a 12-month good behaviour bond and recognisance of $1000 after a worker used a high-pressure water spray on a super six type asbestos roof. Asbestos contaminated dust or debris scattered across the yard, as well as onto two neighbouring properties. In addition to the court-imposed penalties, the defendant also faced clean-up costs in excess of $18,000.

In another incident, two separate sole traders were fined $750 each with 12-month good behaviour bonds and recognisance of $1000, after using high-pressure water spray on asbestos containing roofs. The sole traders also faced clean-up costs of $50,000 and $35,000.

If your building was constructed before 1990, it is likely asbestos will be present in roofing and other sheet materials and so cleaning up after a storm can be dangerous if not done properly.

WHSQ has published a short film on how to avoid damaging or disturbing asbestos on your roof and keep your workers and neighbours safe from dangerous fibres. The film also warns against using near infrared (NIR) handheld analysers to identify asbestos-containing materials as they do not meet the requirements of work health and safety legislation.

Further information

Watch the Cleaning asbestos roofs film and download other resources at asbestos.qld.gov.au.