Accuracy on OHS laws, services and products is essential 5


The following article illustrates how important it is for companies to maintain accuracy when writing a media release about safety laws.  The internet allows for inaccuracies to become widely distributed and for these to gain some legitimacy through the re-publication on various OHS, magazine and news websites.

Asbestos Audits International issued a media release in early April 2012 stating the following:

“On January 1st, 2012, new Australian Model Health and Safety legislation came into effect dictating workplace buildings constructed before 2004 must have an asbestos audit. The legislation outlines building owners, building managers and property managers are responsible for these audits.

Fines of up to $60,000 will be issued to those who fail to arrange a workplace asbestos inspection. Furthermore, should an employee develop an asbestos-related illness, the company will be liable for personal injury lawsuits and potentially face criminal charges.”

The claims are reiterated on the company’s website.  The media release has already appeared, mostly unedited, on the websites of Facility Management magazine and Business Insider.  Similar claims appeared in a press release for The Safety Show in February 2012 but using the company name of Quality Building Management.

SafetyAtWorkBlog looked into the claims by revisiting the model Work Health and Safety Act and the Work Health and Safety Regulations and relevant Codes of Practice.  I contacted  the company’s Managing Director, Donald Pitt, who kindly supplied a list of legislative references he uses to support his claims.  Detailed examination of the media statement and the Work Health and Safety legislation shows that the company has worded the media release very carefully but not always accurately.

Audit

There is no requirement in the legislation for an asbestos “audit” to be undertaken.  The only time the phrase “audit” is used in the Regulations is in relation to monitoring the performance standards of a safety management system.  The WHS Act does not use the term and nor does the Code of Practice – How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace.

The legislation does require the establishment of an asbestos register and that all asbestos at a workplace should be identified by a competent person.  The claim made above packages up several legislative requirements under “audit” when the legislation does not support the use of the term.

Buildings before 2004

Asbestos Audits International states that the new laws dictate

“….workplace buildings constructed before 2004 must have an asbestos audit.”

Section 425 (9) of the WHS Regulations states that the need to produce and maintain an asbestos register

“…..does not apply to a workplace if:

(a) the workplace is a building that was constructed after 31 December 2003; and

(b) no asbestos has been identified at the workplace; and

(c) no asbestos is likely to be present at the workplace from time to time.”

It is inaccurate to simply apply the inversion that, if the regulation does not apply to workplaces built after 31 December 2003, the regulation then applies to all workplaces built prior to that date, particularly without mentioning the important exemptions listed as b) and c).

There is no doubt that asbestos registers are necessary but it is unfair to state that all workplace building must have an asbestos audit.

Penalty

It is also arguable that

“Fines of up to $60,000 will be issued to those who fail to arrange a workplace asbestos inspection”

There are a range of monetary penalties stipulated in the asbestos-related regulations and it may be possible to aggregate these maximum penalties to something approximating $A60,000 but there are substantial differences between the potential penalties for individuals and for those against body corporates.  This distinction is not mentioned in the Asbestos Audit International media statement.

Donald Pitt, company director and author of the 42-page book “Asbestos: Death & Magic” (described as a best-seller in Pitt’s video), seems to be committed to reducing the risks of asbestos exposure in Australia but it is important to avoid alarming people and business owners unnecessarily.  Asbestos, particularly, is an emotive term in the community and any writing about it needs to be carefully considered and 100% accurate, otherwise the management of this insidious substances becomes more complex and confusing.

Kevin Jones

5 comments

  1. A little nit picky – how else can an asbestos register be developed other than auditing the site for its presence. You can call it what you want but at the end of the day it’s still an audit. However, I wouldn’t think that this is a new requirement in Australia which the media release implies.

    I also disagree with your interpretation of the regs. 425(5) requires an asbestos register for all buildings, irrespective of age except those that satisfy the exceptions stated in 425 (6) which, of itself, would require an audit to demonstrate that there is no asbestos or ACM present in buildings constructed after 1/1/2004. There is no exception in the regs for buildings constructed before that date but the requirement is for a register not necessarily an audit and if a site has an existing register than there is no need for a new one to be developed to satisfy the WHS regs (425(4)).

    The exaggerated penalties are not a new thing among companies promoting H&S services but as this is 3 times the maximum stated in the regs it is a little extreme as is the threat of civil penalties. This is my main objection to the media statement – it creates and attempts to exploit a culture of fear around H&S requirements which is where all these urban myths about safety obligations come from. That this is being picked up by others who haven’t bothered to check their facts is concerning.

  2. Accuracy is so important in OHS particularly as it is a topic not often looked at by the specialist media let alone the mainstream media. Even the “specialist media” is largely cut and paste so it’s even more important that they check their facts just as other reporters should. In this case the company appears to have a vested interest in people having their premises checked for asbestos so it should be hyper vigilant to ensure people are not confused. The trouble with the internet is that it perpetuates inaccuracies and while someone might get something corrected on their site it’s not likely that others who’ve pinched bits of it for their own purposes will make their own corrections.

  3. When a supplier tells me I must do something, the regs or the standard says…. or else.. I merely ask which reg, which standard, which paragraph and then judge the supplier based on their response. There are too many rules and regs for any of us to know them all & it is always possible be learn something new but I refuse to deal with suppliers who use threats and fallacies for the uninformed.

  4. I guess its stear clear of companies that use “fear” to sell a product! surely there are benefits to being carefull when it comes to asbestos or when looking after the safety of our work force in general, but the pluses of showing the postives of products rather than the negatives should always be our guide when making decisions.

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