Author: Andrew Pakenham | Editor: Kieran Balmaceda

Asbestos is still a pressing issue in Australia. Two people per day are diagnosed with mesothelioma and other diseases related to asbestos exposure, contributing to four thousand asbestos related deaths per year.

Looking across all levels, from building owners and managers, property developers, tradespeople to DIY renovators, the prevalence of asbestos in commercial and domestic buildings in Australia mandates that we have a robust approach to managing this risk.

Looking Forward – Improving Asbestos Awareness

During my time at the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Authority (ASEA) Conference for 2018, I participated in developments for the next National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness.

The ASEA aims to build on and refine key priority areas of the “Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Act 2013” to reflect the current industry position, establishing new and revised objectives to address over the next five-year period, 2019-2023.

Hendry is fortunate to have a seat at the table in terms of industry and government discussions on how we will further plan to manage the risks presented by asbestos products in Australia, moving towards the aspirational aim to “eliminate the risks of asbestos from government and commercial structures by 2030”.

Through this platform we are able to contribute our views and knowledge of the problem across all aspects of construction through to building operation and maintenance and advise on how and where personnel may come into contact with asbestos and how to mitigate exposure risks.

Even in 2018 I was alarmed to hear that an ASEA survey of tradespeople found that asbestos registers are not always requested as an essential part of job planning and execution in commercial buildings.

The ASEA identified that a key issue in the public management of asbestos is a lack of awareness and understanding, particularly amongst people aged 18 to 39. My own interactions with tradespeople from this cohort supports this finding, with a surprising number unaware that common building materials they interact with often contain asbestos.

ASEA CEO Justine Ross stated the need to raise the “concerning(ly low)” levels of awareness among “tradespeople, home owners, real-estate agents, landlords and tenants.”

Geoffrey Rutledge from the ACT Government repeated this concern to “raise asbestos literacy among trades” as part of a greater national action on implementing asbestos management, removal, reporting and exposure prevention practices.

Building a Business Case for Early Asbestos Removal

Looking towards the long-term, there is strong discussion around the benefits of removing asbestos early versus ongoing management of contaminated sites.

Most organisations manage asbestos “in situ” through re-inspection schedules, provided the asbestos materials are in a reasonable condition and remain “undisturbed”, however findings commissioned by ASEA found that “ultimate costs savings from early asbestos removal may be higher than businesses previously realised, and that in many cases there is a business case and net benefit for early removal”.

Case studies were presented showcasing organisations which have adopted “Best Practice” asbestos management policies, including Prioritised Asbestos Removal Plans to systematically remove asbestos and ensure any new property acquisitions and leases are free of asbestos.

Factors supporting a business case for early asbestos removal include; reduced inspection and management costs, lower upfront removal cost versus future cost, reduced exposure risks to employees and community, reduced insurance premiums, enhanced leasing desirability and property value.

It may cost more in the long run to regularly inspect and maintain asbestos in buildings which can instead be removed early for a reasonable present day fee versus deferment into the future. The cost of unplanned removal and disruptions due to accidental asbestos disturbance can be even greater again.

The simple fact remains that despite the fear and loathing around the management and disposal of hazardous materials, asbestos in a deteriorating condition or with an elevated risk of disturbance and exposure should never be left in place.

Asbestos Safety System – Knowing your role and responsibilities

ASEA CEO Justine Ross revealed that the next National Strategic Plan will focus attention on the “Asbestos Safety System”, a new term used to describe “clear rules and responsibilities” for everyone involved in the management of asbestos risks.

Early detection of asbestos is the critical first step in reducing asbestos exposure risks, with every workplace constructed before 2004 (1990 in Queensland) required to engage a competent person to identify ACMs, so far as reasonably practicable. Results must be recorded in an Asbestos Register which is used to inform contractors and occupants of asbestos exposure risks and their location.

A robust Asbestos Management Plan tailored to your organisations’ activities and processes, outlines the framework and procedures used to manage your asbestos obligations, including the allocation of individual responsibilities. Both the Asbestos Register and Asbestos Management Plan require review at least every 5 years (annually in WA), or whenever new asbestos is identified, removed, disturbed, sealed or enclosed at the workplace.

Where should you start?

It is important that you have ongoing discussions with building management and trade personnel to ensure that you have appropriate asbestos controls in place, that not only meet immediate needs but provide a long-term view of safety management, costs associated with the removal of asbestos and key procedures in the event of future works on site.

Consulting with a built-form advisory firm which specialises in Asbestos Risk and Compliance such as Hendry will allow you to assess your risk portfolio and develop a robust Asbestos Management Plan with appropriate immediate and long term strategies to manage asbestos exposure risks.

Get in contact with us today and we can begin the development of an encompassing Asbestos Management Plan, including a prioritised asbestos removal strategy, to prevent exposure and mitigate risk for your stakeholders and contractors.

National Operations Manager – Risk & Compliance

Andrew Pakenham
0418 374 160

*The information provided herein is of a general nature only and may not be directly applicable to your specific circumstances. Contact a registered practitioner to establish a suitable position.