Asbestos at work

This article is useful reading for:

  • Employers who find asbestos in their workplace;
  • Employees who remove asbestos as their work.

Introduction

Asbestos is a substance that can have potentially fatal health effects. While asbestos is now banned from use it was a component of thousands of different products used in the community and industry from the 1940s until the late 1980s.

Disturbed or broken asbestos products or materials can release minute asbestos fibres that once airborne are capable of being inhaled deep into a person’s lungs.

These respirable fibres are a major health hazard and the adverse health effects, such as lung cancer, can take decades to become apparent. The lack of immediate health effects has often meant that victims are unaware of the dangers they are exposed to which means that exposure to the hazard can continue over a long period causing serious health effects.

Due to the serious health risks associated with asbestos it is essential that exposure to it is effectively managed.

Where to start?

To discharge your asbestos related workplace health and safety obligations (if y are an employer), you must comply with the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995.

The act establishes mandatory procedures and systems for controlling asbestos with further legislation such as:

  • Workplace Health and Safety Regulations 1997;
  • National Code of Practice for the Management and Control of Asbestos in Workplaces (asbestos code of practise);
  • National Code of Practice for the Safe Removal of Asbestos 2nd Edition (asbestos removal code of practise);
  • Various other codes of practice.

Identifying asbestos

There are three main types of asbestos:

  • Chrysotile;
  • Amosite and;
  • Crocidolite.

They are usually referred to as white, brown and blue asbestos respectively.

However they cannot be identified just by their colour. Laboratory analysis is required to properly identify them properly.

What must you do?

  • Every Queensland employer must have workers’ compensation insurance. Most employers insure with WorkCover Queensland, while a small number of large organisations have their own insurance. This insurance coverage ensures that employees injured at work receive financial support;
  • You must follow the ‘national asbestos management code’ and the ‘asbestos removal code’ which refers to specific industries and how to best deal with asbestos in a variety of situations;
  • If there is no regulation or code of practice about a risk at your workplace you must choose an appropriate way to manage exposure to the risk. Employers must take reasonable precautions and exercise proper diligence to manage the risk.

Specific regulations for asbestos

The main requirements relating to asbestos in the workplace grouped into four categories as follows:

Part 11, Division 2

prohibits the following:

  • The use of prohibited substances and prohibited asbestos-containing materials (ACM);
  • Work on ACM unless it is complies with the asbestos management code;
  • Removal of ACM unless it complies with the asbestos removal code;
  • Cleaning of ACM with power tools or power appliances, high-pressure water processes compressed air or abrasive blasting.

Part 11, Division 3

stipulates that owners of buildings who have not complied with former regulations about the management of asbestos in buildings must now comply with the asbestos management code.

Owners of structures that were compliant with former asbestos management regulations have until 1 January 2008 to comply with the asbestos management code.

Part 11, Division 4

requires that asbestos removal work be performed in accordance with the asbestos removal code.

Part 3A, Division 2

when read in conjunction with the Schedule 1 requires a person who performs the prescribed activity of asbestos removal work to obtain a licence to perform that work.

If you work in a building where asbestos might reside -the new regulations place a duty on you as the manager of premises.

Where there is a potential for asbestos to be found, e.g. in an older building, it is your duty to investigate it.

If the asbestos is not damaged or disturbed, you might be advised not to do anything, however, if it has the potential to be disturbed, you will have to have it removed.

If your work involves handling asbestos - even if you have a license to work with asbestos, you are still responsible for your employees. Additionally, employees have a responsibility to protect themselves and their co-workers.

If you know you work with asbestos make sure you have a license to do so.

Be sure to train all your staff on how to work with asbestos, and the relevant safety procedures as well as the equipment they will need, such as breathing apparatus.

When do I need a license to work with asbestos?

The removal of less than 10m2 of bonded asbestos does not require a certificate. However it can only be performed by a competent person.

A competent person is a person who possesses adequate qualifications, such as suitable training and sufficient knowledge, experience or skill, to perform a specific task safely.

if you are working with more than 10m2 of bonded asbestos you will need a license. You will also need one if you use a scaffold to create an enclosure for working with asbestos.

Requirements for removing any and all ACM

Part 11 Division 2 of the Workplace Health and Safety Regulation 1997 states requirements for the removal of all asbestos-containing materials that must be followed.

These requirements include:

  • Minimising the risk of exposure from asbestos fibres in asbestos removal area;
  • Erecting a containment barrier;
  • Monitoring the atmosphere;
  • Controlling release of asbestos fibres;
  • Stopping work if monitoring reveals asbestos fibres are more than 0.5 of the concentration stated in the national exposure standard for the asbestos;
  • Dismantling containment barriers safely.

Part 11 Division 3 of the Workplace Health and Safety Regulation 1997 also states prohibitions on activities involving asbestos where:

  • High-speed abrasive power or pneumatic tools such as angle grinders, sanders, saws and high-speed drills must never be used;
  • High-pressure spray equipment must never be used;
  • Domestic vacuum cleaners should never be used, even if they have a HEPA filter.

Part 9 of the asbestos removal code states requirements for the removal of all asbestos-containing material (ACM) from workplaces that must be followed.

The requirements include:

  • Determining the asbestos removal boundaries;
  • Security, signs and barriers;
  • Electrical and lighting installations.

Preparation activities, including:

  • Minimising the number of people present;
  • Using the correct tools;
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Decontamination materials.

Methods for removing ACM, which include:

  • Wet spray method (most preferred);
  • Dry removal method (least preferred);
  • Inspection of equipment.

Personal protective equipment including:

  • Respiratory protective equipment;
  • Protective clothing and footwear;
  • Air monitoring;
  • Decontamination;
  • Waste removal;
  • Disposal of asbestos waste.

Requirements when removing friable asbestos

The removal of friable asbestos in any quantity must be done:

  • By holders of the appropriate asbestos removal licence;
  • In accordance with the general requirements for the removal of ACM from workplaces; and
  • In accordance with the additional requirements for the removal of friable ACM detailed in Part 10 of the asbestos removal code.

Both sets of requirements under the asbestos removal code must be met when removing friable asbestos.

Generally the asbestos removal code states ACM that are friable should be removed using wet methods wherever possible, and within an enclosed area.

In addition:

  • All ventilation and air-conditioning networks servicing the asbestos work area should be closed down for the duration of the asbestos removal work and all vents thoroughly sealed to prevent the entry of airborne asbestos fibres into the duct network;
  • Upon completion, and after final cleaning of the asbestos work area, all mechanical ventilation filters for re-circulated air should be replaced;
  • Care should be taken to ensure that airborne asbestos fibres cannot escape at points where pipes and conduits pass out of the asbestos work area.

Part 10 of the asbestos removal code provides descriptions of methods used in the removal of friable asbestos which should be followed including:

  • Negative pressure exhaust units – to prevent the escape of asbestos fibres from enclosed asbestos work areas;
  • Enclosures for large-scale asbestos removal work – including design and installation considerations, testing of enclosures and decontamination;
  • Mini-enclosures for small-scale asbestos removal work;
  • Glove bag removal method.

How does that impact on your line of work?

The plan (required to be carried out by managers of a premises where asbestos is to be removed. If the manager of the premises is not able to do so, a trained person should do the assessment for you) - You as the employer, should not carry out any work with asbestos, even after obtaining the license, unless you have a written “plan of work”.

You should keep a copy of the plan at the venue where the work will be carried out and until the work is completed. The plan should contain the probable duration and details of the work set to be carried out, as well as the details of the venue where work is to take place, methods used to carry out the work and details of equipment that shall be used in conjunction with the work.

You must then follow the plan.

Assessment of the work

You may not carry out any work unless you have assessed the risks caused by carrying out the work with asbestos.

You must also record the nature of the risks you think are likely, as well as the degree of exposure. You must consider the measures used to control the risk, along with setting out steps that will be taken in order to minimise the risk.

You must reassess the risks when there are any changes to the work being carried out. Changes must be made accordingly.

If you are not able to make this assessment, a person who is trained to do so should do the assessment for you.

You must notify the controlling authority if you are going to be working with asbestos, no matter how much exposure there might be.

Information, instruction and training

you must train and instruct anyone who is to come into contact with, or who will supervise those who come into contact with asbestos.

They must be aware of the risks found in the assessment, the risks to their health, the precautions they must take to look after themselves and to others, and also the relevant control limit and action level.

Training should be given at regular intervals and whenever any changes are made.

Prevention of exposure to asbestos

Every person involved in the work should reduce the risk of expose both to themselves and their fellow workers, wherever possible.

If an alternative to asbestos is available, it should be used. If there is no alternative, appropriate methods should be used to carry out the work, as well as protective clothes where applicable and adequate ventilation systems should be in place.

Clothing

The correct clothing shall be provided by the employer where appropriate. There are regulations n the specific clothing suitable.

Clothing should be cleaned in an appropriate manner.

Accidents

Should be reported immediately to the supervisor.

Training shall be provided regularly to workers who should be ready to put into place, procedures which they have practised, when necessary.

Cleaning

It is the employers duty to make sure that everywhere exposed to asbestos is cleaned appropriately and regularly.

This includes making sure that the building used is designed in a way so that it can be cleaned easily. A fixed vacuum system is preferred.

Food

And drink must not be consumed in an asbestos designated zone at any time.

You must provide somewhere other that the designated zone, for your employees to eat and drink in. For example, if you are having asbestos removed from your work premises, you must provide somewhere for the workers to go for their breaks.

If you are carrying out the work to remove asbestos, you should also provide somewhere workers can go to rest.

Please note that the information provided on this page:

  • Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
  • Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
  • Does not create a contractual relationship;
  • Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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