Asbestos Issues in the ACT
Electrical contractors are reminded that from 1 July 2019, Section 445A(2)(a) of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 provides that a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) must ensure workers are trained in accordance with the regulation.
The Regulation mandates a specific training course 10559NAT Course in Working Safely with Asbestos Containing Materials. This is in addition to the VET course Asbestos Awareness (10314 NAT) for Electricians, Telecommunications technicians, plumbers and air conditioning trades.
What does this mean for Electrical Contractors?
Electrical Contractors must ensure all trade workers receive training regardless of how long they have worked in the job, their level of seniority and qualifications.
The ACT Government has stated: “While many workers within these industries have already undertaken the training course, the government wants to ensure that all at-risk workers have this important safety information”.
NECA was a part of the Working Safely With Asbestos Containing Materials (WSWACM) steering committee to help develop the course material. Most of the committee members had already decided the course was going to be mandatory despite NECA’s objections stating: “if the course is not mandated, many workers will not bother doing it”.
The new amendment was not without criticism
“I find it difficult to believe that the expectation from government is to have the entire make up of four trades trained within a 4-month timeframe, and according to the Minister’s statement, this new requirement was developed with consultation from industry,” said one NECA member.
Another member stated: “The ACT Government’s mandatory course Working Safely with Asbestos Containing Materials says drilling ACM ‘sheeting’ is approved only when you utilise a HEPA vacuum (and specifically to not use the traditional cup and shaving cream and wet-wipes techniques). The ACT Government’s mandatory course does not mention switchboards at all”.
The WSWACM Steering committee did carry out testing to determine the best method for controlling the release of asbestos fibres while being drilled. However, the test was limited to walls and eave linings and not switchboards where the majority of ACM disturbance occur for electricians. The issue with this is that the vacuum attachments recommended for use won’t fit in most switchboards due to the presence of electrical equipment such as circuit breakers and fuses.
HEPA filtered vacuums will also need to be decontaminated after every use to remove the asbestos debris. The price for any ACM switchboard works will shoot up due to this regulatory change. This price increase will potentially see ACM switchboards become financially unviable to replace under Power of Choice and hinder plenty of PV residential installs.
Tips for decontaminating a HEPA filtered Vacuum of asbestos debris
- Undertake an SWMS for the activity as this work is considered high-risk construction work.
- Inform any personnel working in the immediate area of the nature of the work and that suitable precautions will be made to ensure that they are not exposed to asbestos fibres prior to the start of any work involving asbestos. Only workers wearing all the approved protective equipment are allowed within the work area
- Select an area to work in that doesn’t have high pedestrian traffic or one that’s not exposed to air movement or drafts.
- Post warning signs and barrier tape that indicates the asbestos hazard and the requirement for protective clothing for anyone entering the exclusion zone.
- Set up a decontamination station for the clean-up process after work has been completed.
- Lay down a plastic drop sheet within the work area to prevent the spread of asbestos dust to other areas.
- Place vacuum onto plastic sheet along with replacement filter bag.
- Ensure all required equipment is in the work area before sealing off.
- Make sure all required personal protective equipment is put on prior to entering the work area.
- Disassemble the vacuum to expose the used filter bag.
- Carefully remove the filter bag and place it into an Asbestos waste bag.
- Replace with a new filter bag and put the vacuum cleaner back together.
- Wipe down the vacuum cleaner to remove any asbestos dust from the outside of the unit using water and wipes.
- Place all wipes, used vacuum bag and other materials used into the asbestos disposal bag for disposal.
- Vacuum up any dust from the drop sheet and surrounding area to ensure no dust remains.
- Place drop sheet carefully into the asbestos disposal bag.
- Wash down and decontaminate any tools used before removal from the work area.
- Place all waste into 6 mil poly bags. Then use the vacuum to remove all air in the bag, and then seal with duct tape and wipe the outside of the bag. Place this bag in a second polybag with asbestos labelling, and have all air removed and end sealed, folded over double and sealed again with duct tape. Wipe down bags with clean water prior to leaving the work area.
- Get workers to wipe down their PPE with a wipe and water before they remove their disposable suits, gloves, booties and place them into another poly bag and double seal the opening.
- Clean the hose end of the vacuum and seal with duct tape to ensure no release of asbestos from the vacuum or vacuum hose.
- While wearing a respirator, thoroughly wash hands and arms and dry with wipes and place in the bag.
- Remove all equipment from the area.
- Remove barricades and return the work area to normal.
- Asbestos waste bags to be stored appropriately and disposed of as per local environmental guidelines.