This week, being involved in providing asbestos clearance certificates in a large government project in Canberra, ACT where asbestos pointing material being removed from stone work, a question was asked as to whether we could guarantee that all the asbestos would be removed. After all Asbestos Check were providing the asbestos clearance certificates, therefore you should be able to guarantee that all the asbestos was removed?
The simple truth is that not all asbestos can be removed in every situation and any reasonable asbestos consultant or occupational hygienist will understand the liability in stated that a building is “asbestos free” quite simply it cannot be proven that is asbestos free. Asbestos consultants can only reasonably say that the asbestos identified has been removed as far as reasonably practicable.
Asbestos Free Certificates ?
When we look closer at the legislation relating to asbestos clearance certificates, no where does it say that we are there to inspect and prove that the building is “asbestos free”. The WorkCover and WorkSafe authorities understands that this can never be reasonably achieved in many circumstances. Hence the relevant State Workplace Health and Safety legislation tends to ensure that the area where the asbestos removal took place is now “reasonably safe to reoccupy’.
What does the legislation say about asbestos free versus safe for occupation
The CODE OF PRACTICE FOR THE SAFE REMOVAL OF ASBESTOS 2ND Edition [NOHSC:2002(2005)] states that a clearance inspection is to:
“verify that an asbestos work area is safe to be returned to normal use after work involving the disturbance of ACM has taken place.”
The NSW WHS Regulation 2011 states that:
“Clearance Inspection as required by a Person Commissioning Licensed Asbestos Removal Work, pursuant to Clause 473 NSW Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (WHS Reg).
A Clearance Inspection is an investigation of an asbestos removal area after asbestos removal work has been completed to verify that the area is suitable for normal use. This process can include visual inspection and atmospheric monitoring.”
The Canberra and the ACT the CODE OF PRACTICE FOR THE MANAGEMENT AND CONTROL OF ASBESTOS IN WORKPLACES [NOHSC 2018 (2005)] as enacted by ACT Dangerous Substances Act 2004_Rev 2012 states that:
“Clearance Inspection means an inspection, carried out by a competent person/asbestos assessor, to verify that an asbestos work area is safe to be returned to normal use after work involving the disturbance of ACM has taken place. A clearance inspection must include a visual inspection, and may also include clearance monitoring and/or settled dust sampling.”
Interestingly that the CODE OF PRACTICE FOR THE SAFE REMOVAL OF ASBESTOS 2ND Edition [NOHSC:2002(2005)] states that the results of settled dust sampling does not provide an indication of risk to health. Expert assessment by an occupational hygienist is required for this, even experienced asbestos assessors may not have the appropriate skills, experience knowledge to comment on the potential health risks. This is why in many situations there is a requirements for an occupational hygienist to assess a situation, rather than just an asbestos consultant. As such even if minor amounts of asbestos may be detected, an asbestos clearance certificate may be issued due to the area still being considered safe for re occupation.
Has the asbestos register been updated following an asbestos clearance certificate?
When asbestos has been removed the asbestos register should be updated to include the removal of the asbestos. This then also identifies that there may be residue left or fragments when people may be doing work near the area, or assist where asbestos containing products may be located in the building for an asbestos demolition inspection.
Can you really get a clearance certificate that states Asbestos Free???
In another matter, a colleague from Queensland who is a Certified Occupational Hygienist (COH) was concerned showed me a certificate which had stated that “an Appropriately Qualified Person has inspected this Workplace and no (Division 1) Classified Asbestos Materials have been detected. (However, the building may contain Asbestos Products, namely fibro sheeting or malthoid, which under the Legislation are not notifiable acoustic or thermal insulations).”
My occupational hygienist colleague has infuriated that a company wanted to use this to prove that the building was asbestos free; however was uncomfortable with this and just wanted a second opinion. To which I said that I would never call a building asbestos free; you just never know; particularly if the company wanted to demolish the building. In which case a demolition inspection would be required as there may be asbestos in the wall cavities and the like which could only be seen when an intrusive survey is undertaken.
In the same manner, there may be residue and the like after removal has been undertaken; but it is reasonably safe. One cannot call the area asbestos free after removal. The main cause of fear and concern is the stigma and poor general understanding of asbestos and the health effects. One fibre doesn’t kill, but the uneducated stigma of this view can disintegrate the quality of some people’s life. Perhaps we need more vocal Occupational Hygienists on TV or radio to outline a sensible approach and understanding to the situation rather than hyped up sensationalistic views to sell papers and air time.
Author: Carl Strautins
Carl Strautins is a managing director of Safe Environments Pty Ltd a multi-specialist consultancy operating in the building, construction and property management industries. He provides the necessary guidance and risk minimisation strategies required by architects, construction companies and facility managers to ensure they mitigated their risk to property risk. He is engaged on a regular basis to provide expert opinion for disputes and legal proceedings. Click here to know more about him.