A ruling in the Southport Magistrates Court yesterday has again highlighted the dangers of cleaning asbestos roofs and that codes of practice must be followed.
A company which operates childcare centres was fined $3,500 for a breach of section 446 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.
This follows an investigation which found the company instructed a maintenance officer to clean the roof of a childcare centre on the Gold Coast. The defendant knew the roof was asbestos cement and that using a high-pressure hose to clean it was not in accordance with the relevant Code of Practice or its asbestos management plan. On 21 January 2018, the worker hosed the roof with a high-pressure water device. This caused dust and debris in and around the centre, which had to be closed for a week.
Magistrate Jane Bentley accepted the offences were prevalent, and the serious risks associated with asbestos contamination and that general deterrence is an important sentencing principle. Her Honour noted the offence was aggravated as the defendant knew the roof contained asbestos and allowed it to be cleaned by an employee using a high-pressure cleaner.
Her Honour took into account the maximum penalty; an early guilty plea; the defendant's cooperation with the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation; the fact that the defendant closed the centre, paid for decontamination and replacement of the roof and once notified of the incident, immediately took steps to protect children and staff from the effects of the contamination and that these measures cost approximately $22,000.
Additionally, Magistrate Bentley noted the company had no previous convictions, is a good corporate citizen and that it was out of character for the defendant to fail to comply with any laws applicable to its business; the character references tendered by the defendant; that one of the company directors is a well-respected and valued member of the community, particularly in relation to education and has been awarded an Order of Australia; and comparable sentences submitted by both parties, noting all of the Court's previous s446 sentences were in respect of individuals, which have a maximum penalty of $3600.
Her Honour stated she was satisfied the appropriate penalty was a fine of $3,500, with no conviction recorded.
More information on industrial prosecutions is at worksafe.qld.gov.au.