Safety is paramount for Master Builders and the building and construction industry, and the community deserves best practice in the management and control of asbestos.

Master Builders’ new National Asbestos Management Control and Removal Policy 2015 calls for reforms to the regulation of asbestos to better protect the safety of those working in the industry, owner builders, DIY renovators and others in the community.

Last year, at least 50 people a month were diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. That means this dreadful disease is diagnosed in approximately 600 Australians each year, with the latest figures showing it claims the lives of a similar number annually.

Master Builders wants all stakeholders to take every possible step to reduce this toll.

With the popularity of DIY home renovation showing no sign of abating and a forecast boom in renovation work following two years of strong growth in residential building, Master Builders is deeply concerned about the emerging ‘third wave’ of asbestos victims who came into contact with it while renovating their homes, particularly pre-1987 houses.

Very few people know that the producers of the popular renovation shows get the professionals in to clear out any asbestos before they allow contestants to start bashing away at walls or ceilings.

Master Builders is also concerned about the disposal of asbestos. While the main laws relating to asbestos management and control are generally well established and suitable, the laws around illegal dumping are inconsistent and poor.

For instance, there have been reported incidents of asbestos being illegally stored or dumped in New South Wales and Victoria just in the past two months.

Other asbestos regulatory issues also demand attention, including the urgent establishment of a Commonwealth contaminated sites register and a program of education for owner builders.

The top five priorities in Master Builders National Asbestos Management Control and Removal Policy are:

  • Regulatory reform to better address the illegal dumping of asbestos
  • Reinstate the “10 square metre rule” in the ACT
  • Review of the National Asbestos Register
  • Commonwealth Register of contaminated sites
  • Increased funding for education and training for DIY-ers

1.Regulatory reform to better address the illegal dumping of asbestos

The policy recommends reform with regard to how the disposal of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are regulated. The penalties for the illegal dumping of ACMs are inconsistent across the jurisdictions. Master Builders has made the recommendation that the states and territories increase penalties for illegal dumping and adopt a consistent penalty regime.

2. Reinstate the “10 square metre rule” in the ACT

Aside from recommending the imposition of increased and consistent penalties upon those who illegally dump ACMs, on the whole Master Builders considers that existing regulation of asbestos management and control is appropriate. The only exception is our recommendation for the ACT to repeal its recent abolition of the “10 square metre rule” under the Work Health and Safety Regulation (ACT). The ACT is out of step with the remaining states and territories that do not require licenced removalists to remove non-friable asbestos, providing the amount is less than 10 square metres.

3. Review of the National Asbestos Register

Master Builders does not support the National Asbestos Register in its current form. If an employee makes an entry onto the register, there is no requirement for employers to be notified in writing or for the employee to provide evidence of any alleged exposure. This means employers are not provided with the opportunity to adequately investigate, potentially contest and/or manage any alleged exposure to ACMs. Once an entry is made on the register, individuals are then encouraged to report alleged incidences of exposure to the relevant regulatory body. The policy states that this should be a mandatory requirement to ensure the thorough investigation of all ACM exposure claims.

4. Commonwealth Register of contaminated sites

The federal government has yet to implement a recommendation made by the National Commission of Audit to establish a central contaminated sites register for all Commonwealth property. Within the policy, Master Builders recommends that the establishment of such a register would greatly assist potential contractors who seek to undertake work on Commonwealth sites in preparing accurate quotations and asbestos management plans.

5. Increased funding for education and training for DIY-ers

A study released by Safe Work Australia has shown that home renovation is the largest non-occupational cause of malignant mesothelioma. A supplementary study commissioned by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) found that improvements need to be made in communicating the potential dangers of ACMS to all sections of the community. The policy recommends the implementation of a government funded education campaign to encourage home owners planning to renovate their pre-1990 home to engage a licenced asbestos removalist to identify and remove any ACMs.

In addition, there is also currently no requirement for individuals holding an owner-builder’s licence to undertake asbestos awareness training. Master Builders recommends that there be consistent regulatory reform across the states and territories for owner builders to undertake training in the identification and removal of ACMs.