Removing asbestos from a local site. Photo: Rohan Thomson
ACT home owners whose properties have Mr Fluffy loose asbestos should be forced by the government to have an asbestos management plan - bringing them under the same laws that govern all commercial buildings, workers' advocates say.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union is preparing a formal recommendation to the ACT government to legislate that Canberra's 1050 Mr Fluffy homes be subject to much stricter safety measures.
Last month the government issued a ''recommendation'' that home owners have an asbestos inspection done and that the inspection report should be shown to any tradespeople working on the home.
Residential asbestos management plans could cost about $1000. Management plans are mandatory in commercial buildings, where it is an offence not to have one or not to keep it updated. All building work must comply with the plan or owners risk fines or even jail sentences.
Union secretary Dean Hall said tradespeople were playing Russian roulette every time they started work on a home as they depended on the honesty and ethics of home owners to reveal whether Mr Fluffy loose amosite asbestos had been installed in the 1970s.
A spokesman for acting Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations Minister Katy Gallagher said the government was ''happy to consider sensible, effective and practical proposals to enhance safety in relation to asbestos''.
It has already sought advice on ''the development of a package of measures - which may include legislative amendments - to ensure that tenants and persons engaged to do work on houses built before 1980 are aware of the potential risks posed by Mr Fluffy asbestos''.
''Such measures are currently the subject of consideration, including with the ACT's Asbestos Regulators Forum, and advice will be provided to government shortly,'' the spokesman said.
Even though $100 million had been spent over five years from 1987 forensically cleaning the roof cavities of 1050 homes which had the insulation, it is becoming increasingly clear that remnant asbestos poses significant public health risks across Canberra.
This follows on from ACT Worksafe opening a major investigation on a Pearce home which was revealed this month to be contaminated with significant amounts of remnant loose asbestos which had been released during a renovation.
Inspectors determined that the renovation was not being carried out safely, and the builder engaged for the work may have been unlicensed. No documents for development approval had been found.
Both the home owners and the builder knew it was a Mr Fluffy house and children were living in the home during the renovation.
Fibres were found on furniture, windowsills, the floor and in the vacuum cleaner. Amosite asbestos is a type 1 carcinogen.
ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said it appeared to be a ''flagrant'' abuse of safety protocols.
He said he would crack down on any home owners or builders who knowingly put themselves and others at risk with unauthorised and unsafe work, noting home owners could be in breach of the ACT's Dangerous Substances Act and could be prosecuted, with a maximum fine of $165,000.
Builders could also be liable for prosecution, and in their case the fine could, in extreme cases, be more than $1 million, with the prospect of a jail sentence.
Mr Hall said the ACT government could not wait any longer to introduce strong public safety protocols in the affected houses.
Builders needed professional protection for health and financial reasons. The considerable costs associated with safe and licensed asbestos handling and removal meant that there was always the potential that ''cowboy'' operators could undercut those tradespeople wanting to follow the rules.
''Until they legislate that all of these homes have to have management plans, there is the risk that the responsible tradespeople are going to be put at a commercial disadvantage to those who are going to scrape this stuff from the walls, chuck it in a plastic bag and dump it in a park, which is what we have seen happening for decades.''
''Why has it happened? Because people take the cheap option. Until there are commercial penalties for not having a plan in place then tradespeople will continue to carry an unacceptable risk,'' Mr Hall said.