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ACT government will require all workers who might be exposed to asbestos to complete training by September 30

Date

Kirsten Lawson

A covered truck removes asbestos-contaminated soil from  Campbell last year.

A covered truck removes asbestos-contaminated soil from Campbell last year.

The ACT government will require all workers who might be exposed to asbestos to complete training by September 30, a move that will have a far-reaching impact across a range of industries in the city.

About 12,000 workers in more than 64 occupations will have to complete asbestos training.

The training applies not only to supervisors but to everyone from apprentices up. It applies not just to builders but to the broadest range of people working on homes and property, including cleaners, architects, plumbers, labourers, landscapers, engineers, fencers, glaziers, locksmiths and professional handymen.

The full list of construction-industry jobs that will be affected is at the bottom of this article, but the law goes further than this list, covering anyone who an employer reasonably believes will work with asbestos materials. It even extends to people ''in the vicinity'' of work where there is a risk of exposure, such as a designer or colour consultant who does in-home consultations during renovations of pre-1990 homes. Anyone responsible for asbestos management plans must be trained, along with building managers responsible for pre-2004 buildings. Mechanics working with brake linings are also included.

The four-hour courses, run by the Housing Industry Association, the Master Builders Association and the training arm of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, cost about $300 a head, but the government says organisations running the courses have rebates for their members.

Workers found without the training after September 30 would face fines of $6000 for an individual and $30,000 for a business, Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations Minister Simon Corbell said. Anyone trained in asbestos before January 2008 must be retrained, but some asbestos courses since then are acceptable.

The move, to be announced on Wednesday, is one of a series of announcements from Mr Corbell in response to the unfolding crisis surrounding the discovery that Mr Fluffy asbestos insulation fibres remain in up to 1049 Canberra homes, despite the federal clean-up of the early 1990s. The material was cleared from ceilings but some remains in walls and sub-floors and, in some cases, in wardrobes and living areas.  

Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said the onus would be on employers to show staff had been trained, and he would give them time to ensure it was done.

''If they haven't, we'll direct them to book them into training and as long as they do that, we'll be happy,'' he said.

''The problem area in particular is going to be subcontractors. The big companies pretty much understand it and they've done a lot of work in this space, but it will take a while for all the small employers to get their head around it. But once again, we'll take a co-operative approach.''

Mr McCabe welcomed the training as an ''excellent step forward'', and he said other states were watching the ACT lead.

Mr Corbell said homes and buildings built before 1990 would probably contain asbestos, especially in the eaves, internal and external wall cladding and ceilings, especially in bathrooms and laundries.

The training would ensure workers were confident in identifying asbestos and understood the rules about reporting it, and the risks. It would not qualify them to disturb asbestos in any manner, he said.

He also encouraged home owners and DIY renovators to do the training.

ACT secretary of the CFMEU Dean Hall said the cost of training would fall below $200 for each worker including the industry training fund subsidy. Many had been trained during apprenticeships and in courses, with 500 passing through the union's course in the past month alone.

The training had paid off, with an apprentice raising an alert at the Lyneham sportsground, and another identifying asbestos on heating pipes in a city refurbishment.

''What we're doing here is we're giving two lots of people security,'' he said. ''We're giving workers who go into houses the skills to be able to identify asbestos and notify the appropriate people, and then the other group is people who get work done on their houses. There's case after case of workers inadvertently or intentionally ripping houses to pieces and dragging asbestos through houses … Those families should not have been exposed.''

Mr Corbell has opened his doors to Mr Fluffy home owners and is meeting families every day this week.

Occupations affected

The 12,000 construction-industry workers who must be trained (the list is not exclusive, with the new law covering other workers also, including mechanics).

  • Airconditioning and mechanical services plumber
  • Airconditioning and refrigeration mechanic
  • Architect
  • Backhoe operator
  • Bricklayer and stonemason
  • Builder’s labourer
  • Building associate
  • Building inspector
  • Building insulation installer
  • Bulldozer operator
  • Cabler (data and telecommunication)
  • Carpenter
  • Carpenter and joiner
  • Civil engineer
  • Civil engineering technician
  • Commercial cleaner
  • Concreter
  • Construction project manager
  • Construction rigger
  • Drainage, sewerage and stormwater labourer
  • Drainer
  • Earthmoving labourer
  • Earthmoving plant operator (general)
  • Electrical engineer
  • Electrical engineering technician
  • Electrical or telecommunications trades sssistant
  • Electrician (general)
  • Electrician (special class)
  • Electronics engineer
  • Engineering manager
  • Excavator operator
  • Fencer
  • Fibrous plasterer
  • Floor finisher
  • Gasfitter
  • Geotechnical engineer
  • Glazier
  • Handyperson
  • Home improvement installer
  • Interior decorator
  • Joiner
  • Lagger
  • Landscape architect
  • Lift mechanic
  • Loader operator
  • Locksmith
  • Mechanical engineering technician
  • Painting trades worker
  • Plumber 
  • Plumber’s assistant
  • Plumbing inspector
  • Project builder
  • Roof plumber
  • Roof tiler
  • Safety inspector
  • Scaffolder
  • Sign erector
  • Solid plasterer
  • Steel fixer
  • Stonemason
  • Structural engineer
  • Structural steel erector
  • Wall and floor tiler
  • Welder (first class)
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