Councils agree to support new model asbestos policy

The Hills and Hornsby Councils have thrown its in-principle support behind a new model asbestos policy.

"The model code is presently being assessed prior to a report being prepared," a Hills Council spokeswoman said.

Hornsby Council also supports the idea of national coordination on asbestos removal.

"Consistent with the Model Asbestos policy, it is council's practice that all development consents involving demolition requires the applicant to comply with the Australian Standard  for the demolition of structures, engage a contractor licensed by WorkCover NSW to undertake the work, provide receipts confirming that the materials have been disposed of properly and to erect signage alerting the neighbours that the asbestos is about to be removed," a spokeswoman said.

Developed by the Local Government and Shires Association in partnership with the state government, the model was released last week, during Asbestos Awareness Week. But only as a guideline.

"Unfortunately it is up to each individual council to adopt the model policy," Holroyd councillor Greg Cummings said. His father died from asbestosis on November 22, 2002.

Hills Council's spokeswoman said the council's general manager, Dave Walker, had been awaiting this model policy for some time.

"Council has always recognised the significance of the implications of asbestos and applied the highest standards both in planning and operational terms, even before the model code," she said.

Holroyd Council is the only council from 152 singled out for praise by the NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour in his 2010 report Responding to the asbestos problem: The need for significant reform.

He said Holroyd had made a number of initiatives including:

■ Introducing comprehensive asbestos policies;

■ Implementing public awareness information sessions and lobbying for improvements in the way asbestos was dealt with; and

■ Providing input to the Asbestos Co-regulators Working Group.

Mr Barbour said many of the other councils provided little, outdated and even no information about asbestos to the community.

On the Hills Council's website, government information about fibro and asbestos can be found by clicking on the Planning and Development tab at thehills.nsw.gov.au.

Holroyd's site includes details of the council's ongoing campaign around asbestos and the outcomes of its lobbying efforts.

The council is campaigning for demolition control to be returned to councils, for the removal of state-controlled tipping fees, best practice removal/disposal and the creation of a single independent authority to deal with all asbestos matters.

"Council would also support free, or cheaper rates, for the disposing of asbestos in tips as this would go a long way to reducing illegal dumping," the spokeswoman for Hornsby Council said.

Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause serious lung disease and affect other organs years after exposure.

Historically, the workers most at risk from exposure to asbestos were workers involved in asbestos mining operations, manufacturing processes and installers of asbestos materials.

In 2011, the most common non-occupational exposure was through home renovation-related activities, followed by car maintenance.

The facts

■ Asbestos was used in more than 3000 products before finally being banned in 1991;

■ James Hardie was the largest manufacturer of asbestos building products;

■ The company relocated off-shore to The Netherlands, and later Ireland, in 2001, leaving the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation;

■ It was later found to be short about $1.3 billion; and

■ The late Bernie Banton, who died of asbestos diseases in November 2007, campaigned to have James Hardie made responsible for victims’ compensation

Tips: What you should know

■ Asbestos can release fibres into the air when disturbed;

■ Most people cannot tell if building materials contain asbestos just by looking at them, it is not always possible to detect asbestos just by looking at it — have a licensed asbestos removalist inspect it;

■ Never cut, drill, scrape, water blast, disassemble or dump building materials that may be asbestos without taking the required safety precautions;

■ Never clad over asbestos material unless it can be done without damage to the asbestos; and

■ When removing asbestos, wear disposable overalls, wet material to minimise dust, consult the Work Cover safety guide: www.workcover.nsw.gov.au.

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