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Asbestos in the Workplace

Asbestos is the name for a group of minerals that were used to manufacture a wide range of products including many that were used in Australian buildings and materials until the mid-late 1980s. Exposure to airborne asbestos fibres may cause deadly diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. It can also cause cancer to the larynx, ovaries and is associated with pharynx, stomach and colorectal cancer - Source: International Agency for Research on Cancer.

The use of asbestos in Australia is banned. You must not import, manufacture, supply, sell, use or reuse asbestos or products that contain asbestos. The asbestos ban came into force December 2003. However, some materials containing asbestos may inadvertently be imported from time to time. Under OHS law there are duties and requirements for managing asbestos in workplaces, working with asbestos and removing asbestos. There also requirements under Dangerous Goods legislation for workplace managers to notify WorkSafe if they find that asbestos has been installed after 2004.

When managing asbestos in the workplace it is important to remember that buildings and products from before 2004 may still contain asbestos. Until the 1980s it was manufactured, sold and used in various forms such as:

  • Vinyl floor tiles;
  • Cement sheeting and wall lining;
  • Lagging and jointing material such as mastics;
  • Fire blankets;
  • Brake linings;
  • Door seals on ovens;
  • Pipe lagging;
  • Paint;
  • Sprayed insulations; and
  • Fuse blankets and ceramic fuses in switchboards.

There are many more examples of asbestos containing material.

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) require employers and those with management or control of workplaces to identify and control risks associated with asbestos. Duties include the requirements to identify asbestos in workplaces, label it, keep an asbestos register and control risks to health associated with asbestos.
In most cases asbestos removal must be done by a licensed removalist. Unlicensed removal of limited amounts of non-friable asbestos is permitted only under certain circumstances.
Licensed removalists must comply with particular requirements when removing asbestos and must notify WorkSafe when removing asbestos.

If you are new to the topic of asbestos in workplaces then it can be mind boggling. There are over one hundred specific regulations relating to asbestos in the workplace under the OHS Regulations. By way of comparison there are nine regulations that cover the prevention of falls. To make sense of the OHS Regulations asbestos part, there are two compliance codes issued by WorkSafe Victoria.

1. Managing asbestos in workplaces
https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/compliance-code-managing-asbestos-workplaces
This compliance code provides practical guidance on how to comply with your obligations under Victoria's OHS legislation to manage risks associated with exposure to asbestos in your workplace.

2. Removing asbestos in workplaces
https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/compliance-code-removing-asbestos-workplaces

This compliance code provides practical guidance on how to comply with your obligations under Victoria's OHS legislation when your work involves removing asbestos.

Compliance codes are an important part of the compliance framework in Victoria. If a person complies with a provision of a compliance code, they are deemed to comply with the OHS legislative duty covered by the code provision.

Both Compliance codes are lengthy documents that contain technical requirements but are written in a way to inform clearly to duty holders how they should manage asbestos.

WorkSafe has also published a range of other guidance material which may assist you.

Managing asbestos in workplaces: A step-by-step guide
https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/managing-asbestos-workplaces-step-step-guide

Asbestos: a handbook for workplaces
https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/asbestos-handbook-workplaces

Identification and control of asbestos in workplaces
https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/identification-and-control-asbestos-workplaces

Asbestos registers
https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/asbestos-registers

Asbestos contaminated soil
https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/asbestos-contaminated-soil

As a reminder, under the OHS Act 2004 there is a general requirement for the employer to provide such information, instruction, training or supervision to their employees as is necessary to enable those persons to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

HAZCON can provided further information on this topic. https://www.hazcon.com.au/contact-us.html

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