The AMWU has strongly warned against weakening Victoria’s asbestos protections after reports that WorkSafe is considering excluding work on buildings constructed after 2003 from mandatory checking for the deadly substance.
The proposed change in a draft set of new WorkSafe regulations has been quietly pushed by property developers and backed by the Housing Industry Association, according to a report in Fairfax media.
AMWU Victorian State Secretary Steve Dargavel said it would be among issues he would be taking up next week when he meets the minister for WorkSafe, Robin Scott.
“Asbestos keeps being discovered in imported building materials on new construction projects, so it would be outrageous if WorkSafe considered winding back compulsory asbestos checks for any work on buildings put up after 2003,” Mr Dargavel said.
“If anything, we need WorkSafe being far more proactive because Border Force are failing to properly check imports. We’ve identified numerous instances where imported parts containing asbestos are being used in machinery which manufacturing workers are expected to maintain.”
The proposal reported by Fairfax media would free builders from the existing requirement to audit for asbestos when refurbishing or demolishing structures built after December 2003, the year the deadly substance was banned from import or use.
Last month the discovery of asbestos tiles and building materials imported from China by supplier Yuanda caused major disruption to building projects in Brisbane and Perth.
Unions had not been told by WorkSafe Victoria during the past two years of detailed discussions on updating safety regulations that any rules governing asbestos were subject to change. Final submissions on the updating of regulations are due next month.
Mr Dargavel said the weakening of Australian protections was a flow-on from free trade agreements like that with China, which increased imports of materials where we could not verify the authenticity of Material Safety Data Sheets.
“I think we’ll see employers increasingly seeking to weaken Australian protections in the name of free trade agreements so they can cut costs, whether it be importing unsafe steel or relaxing checks on asbestos,” he said.
Asbestos Diseases Foundation president Barry Robson called on the Victorian Government to overrule WorkSafe bureaucrats considering anything which risked Victorian workers becoming part of a fourth wave of victims of asbestosis and mesothelioma.
“This is a classic case of an industry going through the back door to directly lobby bureaucrats, behind the back of politicians,” Mr Robson said.