WorkCover given new asbestos fining powers

Date: Feb 18, 2015

WorkCover NSW has been given new powers to encourage businesses and people to have asbestos removed appropriately.

The organisation can now fine companies up to $3,600 for appointing unlicensed asbestos removalists to clean up areas contaminated with the deadly material, while individuals could face a $720 penalty for the same offence.

Peter Dunphy, executive director of WorkCover’s Health and Safety Division, said asbestos-related diseases will have an impact on many Australians over the coming decades, so now is the time to act.

“Asbestos can be found in any property built or renovated before 1987 and one in three Australian homes are believed to contain asbestos,” he explained.

“In NSW, there are rigorous legal and safety requirements for the management of asbestos. Any business or individual that commissions the removal of asbestos must ensure the work is done by a removalist who is appropriately licensed by WorkCover NSW.”

One of the most common diseases caused by asbestos is mesothelioma, with the Australian Mesothelioma Register receiving notification that 575 people were diagnosed with the illness last year.

Asbestos can also lead to asbestosis and silicosis, as well as a range of other fatal conditions.

Public liability claims

People who are exposed to the hazardous material can pursue compensation, with workers able to make a claim through the Dust Diseases Board if they develop an illness due to their time on the job.

However, it is also possible to launch a public liability claim against organisations that expose people to asbestos. Identifying who is responsible for the payout can be tricky, especially if the contractors or subcontractors who carried out work did not have specific asbestos coverage as part of their public liability insurance.

As such, organisations or individuals who hire asbestos removal experts are advised to check whether the company is adequately qualified and insured should they fail in their duty of care.

Mr Dunphy said he hopes the new fines will provide added protection for workers and communities when it comes to the proper handling of asbestos in NSW.

The state currently has two asbestos removal licence types: Class A and B. The former relates to friable asbestos removalist work, while the latter enables the holder to undertake bonded asbestos removal jobs.

“To make it easier for businesses and homeowners commissioning asbestos removal work, we’ve published a database on the WorkCover website of licensed asbestos removalists across the state,” he explained.

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