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Getex discuss importance of Occupational Hygienists in asbestos removal work

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article image Occupational Hygienists’ role in asbestos removal work plan

Getex  are specialist consulting and testing company in the occupational hygiene and environmental fields. When submitting an application to councils for development, many homeowners are asked whether their home contain asbestos.

For small renovations or refurbishments, homeowners are asked to determine if asbestos is present before they undertake any work on their property.

If asbestos is present, an asbestos removal work plan may be required as will also a final clearance inspection and asbestos clearance report. If the home was built prior to 1987, it is a recommendation of many councils that a suitably qualified occupational hygienist or asbestos consultant is engaged to identify asbestos in the home.

Deakin University defines Occupational Hygiene as being concerned with “the recognition, evaluation and control of environmental factors associated with the workplace which may cause illness, impaired health and wellbeing, or significant discomfort and inefficiency amongst workers or members of the public. Environmental factors can be chemical, physical, biological, ergonomic and psychosocial in nature”.

An Occupational Hygienist can recognise occupational factors that cause illness or inefficiency and understand their effect on human beings; evaluate the magnitude of these factors and of the response of an exposed population to them; and prescribe methods to eliminate, control or reduce the influence of the adverse factors.

The profession of occupational hygiene as with many other professions has professional qualifications which take into account not only education but also experience and skills developed.

Consultants capable of conducting asbestos inspections, surveys, performing asbestos air monitoring and clearance inspections with qualifications and experience will often find themselves referred to as Occupational Hygienists. However, many may differ from the title of Occupational Hygienist, such as Environmental Scientist, Environmental Consultant or Asbestos Consultant.

Many individuals obtain additional accreditations, relevant to asbestos related work, such as obtaining National Association of Testing Authorities (N.A.T.A) signatory or counter status, their firm also obtaining laboratory accreditation for asbestos fibre counting, air volume measurement or asbestos identification.

A person who consults in occupational hygiene and asbestos should have a solid background in asbestos issues. They can act as a competent person as defined by WorkCover NSW and should have significant knowledge: relating to the identification and removal of asbestos; air sample testing (conducted by a NATA registered laboratory) and interpretation of results; asbestos clearance criteria and the epidemiology of asbestos-related diseases.

Companies who specialise in occupational hygiene doing regular asbestos work in residential and commercial environments will be aware of the consequences of incorrectly removed asbestos during renovation or demolition and the use of unlicensed or under qualified contractors.

An occupational hygienist and/or firm who consider themselves experienced in the area of asbestos issues will also have Professional Indemnity Insurance which specifically mentions asbestos.

Regulations: The NSW Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 under the NSW Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 requires an employer to take reasonable care to identify foreseeable hazards including asbestos, and to assess the risk posed by those hazards. The employer is to eliminate or control those risks and is to provide instruction, training and information, personal protective equipment, supervision, and any other appropriate measure.

In addition to obligations placed on an employer, the Regulation places requirements on controllers of premises with respect to asbestos. For example, a controller of premises “must ensure that a register, in which the type, condition and location of all asbestos and asbestos-containing material in any place of work is recorded, is prepared and maintained”.

Codes of practice: The Asbestos Register must comply with the requirements of the National Occupational Health & Safety Commission (NOHSC- now the Office of the Australian Safety & Compensation Council) Code of Practice for the Safe Removal of Asbestos [NOHSC:2002 (2005)] and the Code of Practice for the Management of Asbestos in Workplaces [NOHSC:2018 (2005)].

Workcover: WorkCover NSW has jurisdiction over contractors and commercial ventures should asbestos removal be performed in an unsafe manner. WorkCover NSW does not have jurisdiction over asbestos removal being performed by individual homeowners on the residential property in which they are living, however, they should remove asbestos sheeting in line with the guidelines provided by WorkCover to ensure a safe approach to asbestos removal.

In the event of an incident, for example the improper removal (either during a planned demolition or following a fire) of asbestos containing materials (ACM) a contractor engaged by a residential person will be directed by a WorkCover NSW Inspector through an improvement or prohibition notice to use an Occupational Hygienist experienced in Asbestos issues.

WorkCover NSW will enforce the requirement to use the services of an appropriately experienced Occupational Hygienist by threat of fines. The services required by WorkCover to be requested from the Occupational Hygienist include:

  • The preparation of Asbestos Removal Control Plans
  • NATA accredited Asbestos Air Monitoring
  • Asbestos Clearance Inspections and Asbestos Clearance Reports
As per the NSW OHS Regulation 2001, a competent person is required to prepare Asbestos/Hazardous Materials Surveys, Asbestos /Hazardous Substances Management Plans, Asbestos Air Monitoring and Asbestos Clearance Inspections.

Hence, large property stakeholders have policies to follow WorkCover Guidelines and Fact Sheets and use consultants with the following:

  • Demonstrated years of experience in asbestos related issues
  • Appropriate Qualifications
  • Appropriate levels of Professional Indemnity Insurance, specifically mentioning asbestos
  • Solid understanding of Asbestos Removal options and techniques of asbestos removal
  • Specialised knowledge of Asbestos Air Sampling testing and interpretation of results - all consultants considered for major projects will be NATA accredited for asbestos fibre counting and air volume measurement
  • Solid understanding of Asbestos Clearance criteria and the epidemiology of asbestos related diseases
Consultants with the above qualities are considered as “competent persons” in accordance with the NSW OHS Regulation 2001. These Consultants may also be considered as Occupational Hygienists in their chosen field or specialised branch. As per WorkCover recommendations a Competent Person must prepare work removal plans, hazardous substances management plans, asbestos removal control plans, asbestos clearance inspections and asbestos clearance reports.

Competent Persons must have demonstrated understanding of asbestos removal options, asbestos project experience and understanding of occupational health and safety, occupational hygiene, NATA accredited asbestos air monitoring and interpretation of results, and Asbestos Clearance Inspection and Asbestos Air Monitoring criteria.

Competent Persons are likely to be Consultants who may also be considered as Occupational Hygienists in their chosen field or specialised branch. Competent persons with demonstrated asbestos project experience manage their asbestos removal works.

Homeowners should also consider hiring Competent Persons and Occupational Hygienists, as being the best people to survey their residential property and manage their asbestos/hazardous materials issues. By engaging appropriately qualified occupational hygienists experienced in asbestos issues as competent persons before undertaking any works concerning asbestos, the homeowner may avoid any or all of the problems they may experience with inspectors or contractors not having the appropriate qualifications, experience and insurance.

An Occupational Hygienist conducts an Asbestos/Hazardous Materials Survey that include the following:

  • The Consultant should undertake a thorough inspection of the home and obtain samples for analysis where appropriate
  • All analysis for asbestos should be undertaken by an independent NATA accredited laboratory to remove any possible conflict of interest
  • The survey should be as discreet and non invasive as possible
  • An Asbestos Register should constitute an Asbestos Register to the requirements of the Act and conform to the requirements of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (now Office of the Australian Safety & Compensation Council)
NATA is Australia’s Government endorsed provider of accreditation for laboratories and similar testing facilities. To support its accreditation programs, NATA also operates proficiency testing programs (e.g. the National Asbestos Program NAP through Proficiency Testing Australia), in which Getex participates. The benefit of NATA accreditation and proficiency testing is to enable the client to select reliable testing and measurement services.

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