Asbestos prosecution highlights community risks

A recent asbestos-related prosecution by WorkSafe Victoria illustrates the prevalence of asbestos as an environmental, public and occupational problem.

According to a media statement on 5 November 2010,

“Joshua Luke Marshall, operating as Affordable Demolitions and Asbestos Removals, told two separate homeowners he was licensed by WorkSafe to carry out asbestos removal work, although he didn’t hold a licence….”

“…The first incident was in January 2009, when Mr Marshall was hired to remove asbestos cement sheeting from a house in Corio.

Mr Marshall was halfway through the job when a WorkSafe inspector arrived at the property in response to an anonymous complaint.

“What our inspector found when he walked onto the property was unbelievable,” [WorkSafe’s] Mr Forsyth said. “No barriers were in place to protect the rest of the house from dust or airborne fibres, the truck being loaded-up with material wasn’t covered, and there were no signs to alert people to the removal work.

On top of that, Mr Marshall and the person helping him weren’t protecting themselves with personal protective equipment like face masks and overalls,” he said.

The second incident occurred when Mr Marshall was demolishing a garage at a Torquay house in September 2009. Again, he assured the homeowner that he held a licence to remove and dispose of asbestos.”

WorkSafe also notes that Joshua Marshall has also been prosecuted previously by the Environment Protection Agency.

Often media reports and statements of OHS prosecutions seem to focus on the offence being the lack of a licence rather than the hazardous nature of the work activity.  The WorkSafe Victoria release describes the unsafe activities undertaken by Marshall’s company and the risks presented to the neighbours and the community.  Often OHS prosecutions seek to follow the strategy against Al Capone – if there is insufficient evidence for the major crimes, prosecute on whatever evidence there is for whatever offence one can find.

There are several other positives from the media statement.  One, someone in the community was sufficiently concerned about the work activity that they contacted WorkSafe.  A great example of community awareness of OHS.

Second, a WorkSafe inspector arrived at the work site while the activity was occurring thereby maximising the chance for solid evidence and not hearsay after the fact.  How long the asbestos removal had been occurring is unclear and, without information about times, the promptness of the inspector’s response could be questioned, but the system works.

Lastly, Ian Forsyth’s words indicate a minimum expectation of safety in this case:

  • barriers against dust and fibres
  • truck tray covers
  • signage
  • PPE
  • a licence.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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