Demolition company fined $6,000

At a hearing in the Redcliffe Magistrates Court, a local demolitions company has been fined $6,000 for failing in its duty to ensure the health and safety of its employees while they were at work.

From 15 October 2018, the defendant engaged with a development company about to the demolition of three houses in Landsborough Avenue, Scarborough. All three houses appeared to have been built prior to 1990 and subsequent inspections and testing of materials confirmed they contained asbestos fibres in the wall sheeting, ceilings and soffits.

On 22 October 2018, the defendant company quoted $49,750 plus GST for the demolition work, including the removal of bonded asbestos containing material (ACM). A month later, it was engaged to do the demolition and sub-contracted a licensed asbestos removal company to remove the asbestos-containing soffit, walls and ceilings from two of the three residences. The defendant erroneously failed to identify the ACM in the third property.

On 10 December 2018, workers employed by the defendant company demolished the house at 145 Landsborough Avenue, reducing it to ground level using an excavator. Building waste and rubble was scraped into rough piles. Asbestos containing material hadn’t been removed prior to the demolition and there were visible pieces of ACM (such as wall sheeting) in those piles.

On 11 December 2018, as workers demolished the neighbouring property, a member of the public contacted Workplace Health and Safety Queensland with concerns about ACM. A WHSQ inspector attended the site later that day and took samples of suspected ACM on the property. Of the 11 samples taken, 10 contained chrysolite asbestos and two contained amosite asbestos.

On 14 December 2018, WHSQ issued the defendant with an Improvement Notice to remediate and decontaminate the property. The defendant complied with the notice and undertook decontamination of the property by removing all visible ACM and removing soil and other debris contaminated with asbestos fibres. A clearance certificate for the property was provided, which confirmed decontamination.

In Sentencing, Magistrate Mark Bucknall noted the risks from asbestos are well-known and it was particularly concerning that an experienced operator failed to make the relevant enquiries for presence of ACM, which it had done on the neighbouring properties. The demolition works undertaken were in a residential area, in close proximity to other residences and community spaces which put at risk members of the public as well as the defendant’s own workers.

Magistrate Bucknall added it was a member of the public who had been concerned at the treatment of asbestos on the site and raised the alarm with WHSQ.

His Honour took into account an early guilty plea, the defendant’s cooperation with the investigation, it’s compliance with the notices issued by WHSQ and the satisfactory remediation of the site. Magistrate Bucknall considered the defendant’s lack of previous convictions quite significant for a company involved in the industry for 40 years. His Honour also noted the company had effectively ceased operating, with the retirement of the director.

The company was fined $6,000, plus court and testing costs of just over $2,000. No conviction was recorded.

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