The work health and safety legislation in Western Australia has changed effective as of the 31st of March 2022.
The specific asbestos legislation in WA now falls under the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 and within the Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022.
Asbestos has become generally very well managed throughout Western Australia. However, it is essential to understand the implications of these recent changes regarding the review periods for the asbestos register and the associated management plan and to ensure the risks associated with asbestos are still minimised so far as is reasonably practicable.
I’ve provided some further detail below.
- The Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022 separate the register and management plan requirements; however they are also linked.
- A person with management or control of a workplace must ensure that an asbestos register is prepared and kept at the workplace and kept up to date, as well as indicating the location and type of asbestos that the condition must be up to date. The register is to be reviewed and, as necessary revised if other asbestos or ACM is identified at the workplace or asbestos is removed from, or disturbed, sealed or enclosed at, the workplace.
- The asbestos register must also be reviewed at a minimum when the asbestos management plan is reviewed, which is at least five years. This brings us to when should the management plan should be reviewed which is separately addressed in the WHS regulations.
- The asbestos management plan includes the register. Still, it should also address such things as safe work procedures, control measures, detailing responsibilities including incident and emergency response, as well as information for training for all workers at the workplace.
- The frequency review for the management plan is dictated by the following;
If there is a review of the asbestos register or a control measure;
If asbestos is removed from, or disturbed, sealed or enclosed at, the workplace;
If the plan is no longer adequate for managing asbestos or ACM at the workplace;
A health and safety representative can request a review because they believe the health and safety of workers may be impacted or the current review period is not adequate;
The legislation also now states that the management plan must be reviewed at a minimum of once every five years which was previously 1 to 3 years.
While five years is now the mandatory minimum review, each site is subject to the overarching principle of minimising risks so far as is reasonably practicable. Based on Opira’s experience of regularly attending workplaces to review asbestos materials, the following is typical.
- External Asbestos-containing materials (ACM) such as fibre cement panelling for walls, roofs, soffits, fascias and mastics and membranes can be exposed to external weathering, including heat, cold, rain and wind that can all have an impact on the condition of asbestos materials, and therefore a review period needs to be sufficient to determine the rate of deterioration, to assess if there has been any damage due to water ingress, heavy winds, solar impact or just the heating and cooling cycles of Western Australian weather.
- Internal Asbestos-containing materials(ACM) such as fibre cement walls, ceilings, vinyl flooring, and electrical mounting boards are also easily damaged or disturbed from activities by onsite workers or contractors.
- Control measures such as how well the ACM is sealed (typically painted), enclosed under another structure like capping, or if asbestos labelling is intact and prominent are essential examples of control measures and quite often prone to change, especially in external locations.
The register and management plan to be kept up to date and to meet the requirements for duty of care as outlined in the WHS Regulations is, therefore, dependant on a blend of the factors above, which typically relates to the number of ACM items onsite and the individual risk assessment for each item. This forms an overarching understanding of when best to review an asbestos register and management plan.
It is always preferable to remove asbestos and eliminate the risk entirely but in many cases, this is very costly and not practical due to the disruption to the business. It is therefore essential in the ongoing management of asbestos to keep in mind the critical task of maintaining compliance in accordance with the legislation, minimising liability and keeping all workers onsite as free from harm as possible from asbestos materials that have been disturbed, are in poor condition or the control measures are no longer effective.