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Ignorance Is Bliss....... Until It Isn't

Why do so many employers in the asbestos and remediation industry choose to ignore the health, safety and training requirements they must provide for their employees and their business? It is so often in our industry that a Government client or project comes up and the businesses engaged for the works are scrambling to arrange health monitoring and respirator fit tests. Not only this, but consider DOP testing of equipment, employee training and asbestos liability insurance. Considering that these are legal requirements that protect both the employer and employee, why is it that these things are so often ignored?

Health Monitoring

This is an important one, and so often it is not kept up to date or not done properly. It is also a huge issue amongst asbestos workers employed through labour hire companies. Health monitoring is the responsibility of the asbestos removal company to provide, even in circumstances where labour hire is used. The asbestos removal company is placing workers into an asbestos work environment and it is their responsibility to ensure that workers have adequate and up to date health monitoring. If they do not, you cannot send the worker into that environment. FULL STOP!

In NSW, health monitoring is required before employment begins and at least once every 2 years (or as directed by a medical practitioner).

The recommended asbestos medical involves:

  • A limited history (including smoking history) and a specific physical examination

  • A Chest X-Ray (if clinically indicated and charged separately)

  • Spirometry (lung function testing)

A copy of the health monitoring report must be provided to SafeWork NSW where the report contains:

  • advice that a worker may have contracted a disease, injury or illness, or

  • any recommendations that remedial measures be taken

Notifications of an adverse health monitoring report should be made using the “Notification of an adverse health monitoring report”. Penalties apply to companies who do not disclose this information.

Respirator Fit Testing

Here is another one that is constantly ignored by many companies. When it comes to asbestos work PPE & RPE are often the only thing protecting a worker from exposure to asbestos. It is critical to a workers health that they are fit tested to their RPE. This includes full face, half face and disposable respirators. With disposable respirators, workers must be fit tested to each different brand or type that an employer intends to supply to their workers. What some may find surprising is that with many makes and models of respirators, they may only fit 75% of people or less! Generally the cheaper you go with P2 disposables, the fewer percentage of staff will fit to that respirator.

Fit testing is required at a minimum of 12 monthly intervals, or in cases of significant weight loss/gain, prescribed glasses, changes to facial features (e.g. broken nose or jaw) or changes to the mask (e.g. a new strap type that is different to the type used when fitted).

As with health monitoring, the employer must ensure all workers entering the asbestos work area have been fit tested to the respirator they are wearing. For the asbestos removal company, again, if a worker does not have a current fit test, they cannot enter your work area. For consultants, this is also a MUST.

Respirator Condition

The upkeep of a workers reusable RPE is vital to its integrity. What use is a fit test report if the condition of a respirator is less than satisfactory? Many times I have seen workers missing valve covers, stretched out headbands or even facepieces that are sun damaged and cracking! Often respirators are thrown behind the seat of a truck or stored in a tool bag rather than in an appropriate container or bag.

Employers are responsible for providing their staff with adequate RPE to undertake work involving asbestos. This does not just mean buying one respirator at the beginning of employment and expecting that to last forever. For asbestos removal workers, straps will require replacement every 12-24 months, valve covers will be lost and require replacement, pre filter covers will break and the silicon will degrade over time. Employers must also ensure that adequate respirator storage is provided.

DOP Testing

A Dispersed Oil Particulate (DOP) test is required to be conducted in accordance with Australian Standard IEC 60335.2.69 Section AA.22.201.2. This is to ensure that there are no leaks in your H.E.P.A filter, ensuring the 99.995% efficiency and the unit is operating effectively.

Most asbestos removal companies run with the line 'it's cheaper and easier to just buy a new one', but this is not true as (most) companies are not replacing their HEPA vacuums with new ones every 12 months. Often the vacuums are being used for years until they become so clapped out that it starts affecting how quickly a job can be completed.

DOP testing is recommended every 6 months for Negative Air Pressure Units, and 12 months for H Class HEPA vacuum cleaners.

Asbestos Liability Insurance

Alarmingly, there are asbestos removal contractors out there who do not hold asbestos liability insurance. These contractors are taking a massive risk to themselves, their business, their employees and the general public. If your business removes or transports asbestos (whether that is licensed removal >10m2, or unlicensed <10m2; bonded or friable) asbestos liability insurance is a must. Asbestos liability insurance covers you if things were to go wrong.

Employee Training

Would you believe that there are employers out there that send untrained workers into asbestos work zones. Most commonly in our industry this would occur in the form of businesses sending Class B (non-friable) asbestos trained workers to assist with a Class A (friable) asbestos removal job, but there are also instances where completely untrained workers are being used for asbestos removal jobs. Either way, these practices are 100% illegal and employers undertaking this practice are taking huge risks.

In accordance with WHS Regulation clause 460, 'Asbestos removal worker must be trained'. As a licensed asbestos removalist you must not direct or allow a worker to carry out licensed asbestos removal work unless you are satisfied the worker holds certification for the class of licensed asbestos removal work they will be carrying out.

This does not just relate to asbestos removal however, consultancies also flirt with these requirements. Some consultancies will send consultants into friable asbestos jobs who do not have an asbestos assessors licence. A licensed asbestos assessor MUST be used for air monitoring and clearance inspections on friable removal projects.

Many companies in the asbestos industry lay claim to being industry leaders, industry experts or leaders in quality and safety. However, if you cannot tick all of these boxes you are far from the best, in fact you are not even satisfactory. Not only this, but you have left yourself and your company open to litigation and financial ruin. If you can tick all of these boxes, then you are doing better than many others.....

It is a sad truth of our industry, and something that needs to change.

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