Tougher penalties on asbestos handling welcome, but greater protections for WA workers still required

27 January 2017
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers have today welcomed the introduction of tougher new penalties for failures around disposal and handling of asbestos in Western Australia, saying the measure was a good first step but more action was needed to protect workers from asbestos exposure.

Maurice Blackburn Principal and head of the firm’s Asbestos Practice Theodora Ahilas said while the measures were positive, there was still much to be done both in Western Australia and nationally when it came to minimising the risks posed by asbestos imports and in ensuring workers were protected.

“Today’s new measures are welcome, and we hope will provide more incentive for individuals to do the right thing when it comes to the proper handling and disposal of asbestos in Western Australia,” Ms Ahilas said.

“However, unfortunately despite asbestos imports having been banned for many years we know illegal imports remain a problem, including in Western Australia, where there have been reported incidents of asbestos containing materials discovered on building sites such as the new Perth Children’s Hospital.

“There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and it is crucial that the Federal Government ensure greater enforcement of penalties and regulations on illegal asbestos imports.

“Furthermore, ensuring that workers are also not exposed to building and other asbestos-containing materials is critical, and we urge the Western Australian Government to make efforts to protect workers from asbestos exposure a priority.

“This must include looking at training options to ensure workers know how to properly identify and respond to asbestos risks, as well as better protections for those undertaking vicarious or cash in hand work through labour hire schemes.

“It is well known that oversight within labour hire schemes can be limited and puts workers at risk, and it is time for Western Australia to join other states in undertaking proper scrutiny of labour hire schemes, including consideration of a licensing system to better protect workers,” she said.

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