Principal contractor fined for placing workers at risk of exposure to asbestos
A construction company has been fined $75,000 in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for failing to comply with its primary health and safety duty pursuant to s 19(1) of the Work Health & Safety Act (“the Act”).
The construction company was engaged as the principal contractor for a construction project involving the supply and installation of air conditioning units for a school.
After being provided with a copy of the asbestos register for the project, which confirmed the existence of asbestos sheeting in several classrooms, the contractor contacted an asbestos removal business but did not ultimately engage them to undertake removal.
Subcontractors were provided with a schedule of works that identified rooms that were known or suspected to have contained asbestos, but it did not indicate the specific location of asbestos in each relevant room.
On 10 March 2022, the contractor’s Site Foreman instructed a worker to cut access panels in a classroom. After cutting into a sheet, a worker took the piece to the Site Foreman as he thought it may contain asbestos.
However, he was told that there was no asbestos and instructed to continue working.
Shortly thereafter, a co-worker told him to stop due to the likelihood of asbestos being present.
The contractor was charged with failing to ensure the health and safety of workers by:
- Failing to provide the asbestos register;
- Directing the worker to continue the activity despite knowing asbestos was present;
- Failing to implement appropriate measures to manage the hazards and risks associated with asbestos exposure.
Magistrate Joseph Pinder determined that the principal contractor exposed workers on the site to risks that were obvious, clearly identifiable, and foreseeable.
Importantly, the magistrate believed that the risks could have been either eliminated or minimised by the principal contractor at relatively minor cost and inconvenience.
In determining an appropriate penalty, Magistrate Pinder considered the company’s early guilty plea, their cooperation with the investigation, lack of prior convictions, and the measures imposed by the business following the incident.
He imposed a penalty of $75,000.
No conviction was recorded.
For queries about safety, asbestos removal, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 1300 925 529, 0417 622 178 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.