Asbestos Code of Practice NSW: What You MUST Know

Stay safe and compliant with the Asbestos Code of Practice NSW. Your resource for understanding asbestos risks and legal obligations.

Asbestos is a serious threat in Australia, and it can still be found in many buildings built before 2003. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that all forms of asbestos are dangerous and can cause serious diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

To protect everyone from asbestos hazards, businesses in NSW must comply with the Asbestos Code of Practice NSW. Failing to comply can have severe consequences, including penalties that can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars and harm to your company’s reputation.

This blog post is a guide to help you understand the Asbestos Code of Practice NSW. It will ensure that your business meets its obligations and safeguard everyone from the severe risks of asbestos exposure.

What is the Asbestos Code of Practice NSW?

Asbestos is a mineral widely used in construction materials that can pose serious health risks when its fibres are inhaled. The Asbestos Code of Practice NSW provides guidelines for the safe management and handling of asbestos in New South Wales. It covers employers, property owners, employees, and individuals engaged in construction, renovation, or demolition projects. 

The Code offers practical guidance on how to adhere to the specific requirements of the WHS Regulations concerning asbestos. Important concepts in the Code include asbestos, asbestos-containing material (ACM), friable asbestos, non-friable asbestos, and asbestos removal license. 

The Code can be easily found on the SafeWork NSW website. Understanding and adhering to the Asbestos Code of Practice NSW is crucial in safeguarding yourself and others from the dangers of asbestos exposure.

The Asbestos Register: Understanding Your Obligation

Legal requirements for an Asbestos Register typically apply to commercial and public buildings constructed before a specific date, usually before the year 2003 when asbestos bans were implemented. For building owners, managers, or those responsible for a workplace, it’s crucial to establish if the building is covered by these regulations. Knowing the law is important!

Consider the Asbestos Register as a detailed list of asbestos present in your building. There’s a lot more to it than just stating the presence of asbestos. Here is a list of essential components for a well-compiled Asbestos Register:

It is important to record the specific locations of any known or presumed ACM in detail. It signifies more than just casually mentioning the possibility of asbestos in the ceiling. Precise identification of the locations of potentially hazardous materials is essential.

  • Asbestos Type. There are different forms of asbestos such as chrysotile and amosite, each carrying different levels of risk. Pinpointing the particular kind helps determine the correct way to handle it.
  • Condition and Risk Assessment. Is the ACM in good shape, or is it deteriorating? Friable asbestos, which easily breaks down and releases fibres, poses a significantly higher risk. Ensure that the register contains a risk assessment, which is essentially an evaluation of the likelihood of fibres being released.
  • Management Plan. The Asbestos Register should not just be a mere record; it should be used to direct actions. It is essential to include a documented management plan. You can choose between removal, sealing/encapsulation, or ongoing monitoring based on the risk level.

Who has the authority to create and update the Asbestos Register?

The Asbestos Register should not be handled as a DIY project by those who are unqualified. Rules usually mandate that a skilled individual must prepare and keep the Register up to date. This individual possesses the required training, experience, and qualifications to perform asbestos surveys and identify ACM. In certain areas, obtaining specific licencing or accreditation may be necessary.

The Asbestos Register serves multiple crucial functions:

  • Protecting Occupants. The main objective is to shield building occupants from potential exposure. Identifying and evaluating asbestos allows for making informed decisions on how to reduce risk.
  • Guiding Workers. Contractors, maintenance staff, or others working in the building require the Register to make informed decisions. Before starting any work, it is important to determine if special precautions, permits, or licenced asbestos removal specialists are required.
  • Legal Compliance. Keeping an updated and precise Asbestos Register is not only beneficial but also a legal requirement! Not complying can lead to substantial fines or legal responsibility if asbestos-related illness occurs.

Duty to Manage Asbestos Risks

Ensuring proper handling of asbestos in current buildings is crucial to protect the well-being of residents and employees. Ensuring a proactive approach to asbestos control and safety is a legal and ethical obligation that falls on building owners, employers, and those in control of premises.

Continual Monitoring and Evaluation of Asbestos

An essential aspect of successful asbestos management involves being proactive and conducting regular identification and assessment. This process needs to be ongoing, not just a one-time occurrence. Given the widespread use of asbestos in the past, it is highly probable that many buildings around the world still have it.  

One should assume that asbestos is present, particularly in buildings constructed before 2000. Skilled professionals need to conduct asbestos surveys to identify the location, type, quantity, and condition of all asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).

The data collected from these surveys is used to create a thorough asbestos register, which is a crucial tool for managing risks effectively. It is important to conduct regular re-inspections of these ACMs to monitor their condition, as deterioration over time can lead to an increased risk of fibre release.

Asbestos Management Plans – Key Areas of Focus

A comprehensive plan is essential for ensuring the safe management of all identified ACMs. It usually addresses the following crucial elements:

  • Identifying Asbestos. Specifying the location, type, and condition of ACMs within the building, based on the asbestos register.
  • Risk Assessment. Assessing the possible exposure levels of employees, contractors, and the general public to deteriorating asbestos. These evaluations assist in prioritising future control measures.
  • Control Measures. Providing a breakdown of the particular steps created to reduce fibre release. Following a hierarchy of controls is typically discussed in the next section.  
  • Incident Communication and Response. Establishing procedures to promptly address accidental asbestos disturbances or emergencies, such as containment and clean-up protocols.
  • Information and Training. Ensuring mandatory asbestos awareness training for individuals at risk of exposure, which includes instruction on identification, risks, and safe work procedures.
  • Record Keeping and Regular Review. Keeping meticulous records about asbestos, its condition, and control measures in place. It’s important to regularly review and update the plan based on any changes or new information.

Control Measures Hierarchy: Prioritising Safety

When it comes to managing asbestos risks, a hierarchical approach to control measures is considered best practice. Let’s delve into these steps, starting with the most favoured and ending with the least favoured.

  • Elimination. The most efficient approach is to completely remove ACMs with the help of licenced professionals. This option is typically preferred for materials that are heavily damaged or situated in areas with a lot of foot traffic. 
  • Isolation (Encapsulation or Enclosure). When removal is not an option, isolation methods involve encapsulating ACMs with specialised coatings or constructing enclosures to contain them and prevent fibre release. 
  • Administrative Controls. Establishing safe work practices, access restrictions, and labelling of asbestos-containing areas can help reduce exposure risks. 
  • Personal Protective Equipment. When all other measures fall short, suitable respirators and protective clothing serve as a final layer of protection.

Choosing the most appropriate control measures relies on several factors such as the material type and condition, risk level, removal feasibility, and potential disruption.

Specific Obligations for Businesses

If you are in charge of an older workplace, there is a possibility that it may have asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). This guide aims to assist you in comprehending your particular responsibilities in guaranteeing the safety of all individuals involved.

If your workplace was constructed before the year 2000, there is a high probability that it contains ACMs. Asbestos was discontinued from use at that time, but can still be found in numerous buildings. First and foremost, you must establish the presence of asbestos. It is necessary to have an asbestos survey done by a qualified professional. 

The survey aims to identify any ACMs, assess their condition, and determine if they present a risk. Developing and maintaining an asbestos register and management plan is necessary if ACMs are found. This document outlines the locations of ACMs, their management, and the procedures to be followed in case of disturbance.

Regular inspections and reviews of the asbestos register and management plan are crucial, even if the initial survey shows no risk. ACMs may degrade over time, transforming a situation with no risk into a potential danger.

Renovation or demolition work carries the greatest risk of disturbing ACMs and releasing fibres. As a business owner, you are legally obligated to address workplace safety laws and reduce risks. Before commencing any work, it is important to have a licenced asbestos assessor examine the worksite and identify any ACMs that need to be removed. Only authorised professionals are allowed to manage ACM removal. Specialised techniques will be employed to prevent fibre release, including wetting materials, enclosing work areas, and utilising negative air pressure systems.

It is crucial to fulfil your duty to inform. Workers who may work close to or handle ACMs need to undergo asbestos awareness training. It is important for individuals to be able to identify it, follow safety protocols, and understand emergency steps. Make sure to inform contractors working at your site about the presence of ACMs and the details of your asbestos management plan. Make sure to provide the asbestos register before starting work. 

Depending on the nature of the work, it might be necessary to communicate with the public. When there is a risk of asbestos fibres spreading outside the work area, it is important to use clear signage and physical barriers to alert the public about the danger. Adhering to notification protocols is not just a legal requirement; it also demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of the community. 

Asbestos Removal: Licensed vs. Unlicensed

Having a licence is required in NSW for removing asbestos under the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017. It all comes down to the type of asbestos you’re working with:

  • Friable Asbestos.  This type of asbestos can be easily crumbled or pulverised, releasing hazardous fibres into the air with even the slightest disturbance. Any task related to friable asbestos, no matter the amount, must be handled by a licenced Class A asbestos removalist.
  • Non-Friable Asbestos. This type of asbestos is encapsulated within a matrix similar to cement, reducing the chances of fibre release unless there is a major disruption. It’s recommended to consult with licenced professionals, especially for larger areas, even though you can remove small amounts of non-friable asbestos without a licence (up to 10 square metres).

Asbestos work in NSW must follow strict standards set out in the ‘How to Safely Remove Asbestos Code of Practice 2019’. Trained removalists go through rigorous training to be equipped for:

  • Assessing risks. Before starting the job, accredited removal experts carefully evaluate the type, amount, and state of the asbestos, identifying the possible fibre release level and required safety precautions.
  • Control Measures. Enforcing strict control measures is crucial. Isolating the work area, utilising specialised equipment to minimise fibre release, implementing negative air pressure systems, wearing protective gear, and strictly following decontamination procedures are all essential steps.
  • Proper Disposal. Asbestos waste should be properly disposed of at authorised facilities. Trained removalists adhere to precise protocols for the safe packaging, transportation, and disposal of asbestos-containing materials, monitoring their progress to guarantee proper management.  

Unlicensed asbestos work in NSW is restricted and should only be done for specific, minor situations. Even for small amounts of non-friable asbestos, you need to have proper training to safely manage it. 

Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment before removal. If there’s a possibility of significant fibre release or you’re unsure about the process, hire a licensed professional. Take appropriate control measures like wetting the asbestos material, wearing protective gear, sealing off the area, and packaging the waste for disposal. Engage licensed professionals for effective and compliant asbestos handling, reducing potential risks to your employees, the public, and your business reputation. 

Using licensed professionals helps maintain compliance with strict NSW regulations, protecting your business from possible fines and legal responsibilities. Professional removalists ensure that the process is carried out with the highest regard for safety, minimising exposure to these hazardous fibres.

What Happens If You Don’t Comply with the NSW Asbestos Code

If you suspect that your business premises may contain asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), it’s crucial to comply with the NSW Asbestos Code. Not adhering to the code can result in significant repercussions, including enormous financial implications. Fines can be in the thousands for individuals and hundreds of thousands or even millions for companies. Moreover, there could be expensive legal battles if individuals were exposed to asbestos due to negligence.

Failing to comply with the NSW Asbestos Code could also harm your business’s reputation. Any mishandling of this material could lead to immediate backlash, resulting in a decrease in customers, difficulty in recruiting top talent, and strained relationships with business partners.

It’s crucial to adhere to asbestos safety regulations to protect the well-being of your workers and the community. Inhaling asbestos fibres can lead to serious and irreversible health issues such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.

To fully comply with the NSW Asbestos Code, you need a qualified professional to conduct an asbestos survey to identify its exact location. Record the location of confirmed ACMs and create a detailed Asbestos Management Plan outlining how you intend to handle, eliminate, or safely upkeep this material. Train all employees who may encounter asbestos to safely handle ACMs. Hire a licensed, qualified asbestos removal specialist if you need to remove asbestos to comply with legal requirements.

Don’t Become a Statistic – How to Get Code Compliant

Building code compliance is crucial for a safe and thriving work environment. Not meeting building codes can endanger people, result in significant fines, and even force closures. 

To ensure code compliance, seek advice from licensed experts and provide training for your employees and contractors. Workplaces that do not comply with regulations are more prone to incidents and accidents. Violating building codes in NSW may incur substantial financial penalties and even prosecution. 

Prioritizing safety enhances morale, engagement, and reputation, attracting top talent and fostering stronger customer loyalty. Using available resources like SafeWork NSW and licensed professionals is crucial in reducing workplace risks. Always prioritise safety to ensure the well-being of your team, customers, and the long-term success of your business.

Conclusion

To conduct business in New South Wales, it’s essential to remain adaptable to regulatory changes and market trends. Staying up-to-date with the latest legislation and industry updates is critical for reducing risks and opening new possibilities. 

Embracing digital transformation, sustainability, and ethical practices are also becoming increasingly crucial for businesses of all sizes. Workplace safety is a fundamental aspect of any successful business, as it enhances productivity, decreases absenteeism, boosts employee morale, and contributes to overall financial success. 

You can explore SafeWork NSW resources for guidance and support customised for your industry and requirements. Let’s work together to build a business community in NSW that embodies economic success and genuine concern for its residents.

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