Asbestos: What are the regulations regarding demolition or refurbishment?

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Most builders know how dangerous asbestos can be to their health, but how many know the regulations regarding demolition or refurbishment?

The Registered Master Builders Association says some builders are not aware of, or complying with, the current asbestos regulations.

Section 19 and 20 of the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 (Regulations) states before any demolition or refurbishment of a structure or plant built or installed before January 1, 2000 can be commenced, an asbestos inspection must be conducted by the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) before work begins.

The Regulations state that the inspection must be undertaken by a qualified person. Section 20 of the Regulations states: “The PCBU who intends to carry out the demolition or refurbishment of a structure or plant, must not carry out the demolition or refurbishment until the structure or plant has been inspected to determine whether asbestos or Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) is fixed to, or installed in, the structure or plant.”

If you cannot reasonably determine if asbestos or ACM exists in the structure or plant, you must assume that asbestos is present.

What is the definition of refurbishment? 

According to WorkSafe, “Refurbishment is when you are carrying out work in a building or structure with the view to changing or upgrading it.

“This is different to minor maintenance, which is about maintaining what you have. For example, minor work on a kitchen, such as fixing a plumbing fixture, would not be a refurbishment.

“However, if you are replacing cabinetry or flooring, this would be considered as refurbishment.”

The owner of the property is the primary PCBU. However, all parties (designers, project managers, contractors) involved in the work are also considered to be PCBUs.

If work proceeds without the appropriate survey, then all parties are liable for non-compliance penalties (up to $10,000). For any demolition or refurbishment work to a property built or installed pre-January 1, 2000, a refurbishment or demolition survey is required.

Existing management surveys or plans cannot be used as refurbishment, and demolition surveys are technically more challenging and intrusive than management surveys.

Asbestos can be encased

This is because their purpose is to identify all ACM within a particular building area or within the whole premises, so this can be removed or encased.

Asbestos does not always need to be removed if it can be encased, so builders should ensure they seek expert advice in this instance.

It is important that members are diligent as they could face penalties for non-compliance.

It is also important to note that if a builder manages or owns a workplace which was constructed before January 1, 2000, they will require a workplace Asbestos Register and Management Plan.

The RMBA recommends they familiarise themselves with Sections 10 to 14 of the Regulations to ensure they are complying.

Tips for compliance:

Jordan Hirn from Worksafe Solutions has suggested a few simple approaches to assist in complying with the law:

If the structure was constructed before January 1, 2000, check that the client has undertaken an asbestos survey before they tender, and that all recommendations in the survey have been carried out.

If they have not, builders should ensure that asbestos removal and surveys are excluded or “tagged out” from their tender, and that the client is aware they must carry out an asbestos survey and follow its recommendations.

Ensure competent experts have been involved in the survey process. Ask for qualifications and available references.

If there is less than 10sq m of asbestos, builders can choose to remove it themselves. However, they must ensure that they’re still working to WorkSafe guidance and be able to prove competency.

Encourage clients to keep all records to present to any future contractors or purchasers.