Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance that was extensively used in building materials throughout Western Australia up until the late 1980s. When it is in good condition it does not pose a risk, but when it is broken, or worn the risk of people inhaling asbestos fibres increases. It is therefore important that government agencies know where asbestos may be present in their buildings, so they can monitor its condition and manage the potential health risks.
In this, my second report into how agencies manage asbestos in their buildings, I was pleased to note a significant improvement. I previously reported in 2007 that none of the agencies audited had complete and up-to-date asbestos registers and management plans. This report notes that all agencies were addressing high-risk asbestos. Three of the seven agencies displayed better practice in identifying and managing asbestos. The other agencies had varying levels of registers and management plans and needed to improve the training and awareness of staff and others.
I was however disappointed that no single body had responsibility to coordinate the management of asbestos across government. This was in contrast to my 2007 report that noted the coordinating role of the Asbestos Steering Committee. The Committee was disbanded in 2010. Agencies now have differing practices in identifying and managing asbestos risks, which has led to gaps and inefficiencies. I have recommended that government consider this matter.
Agencies have a responsibility to manage workplace hazards and while exposure to asbestos does not always lead to an asbestos-related disease, it is important that this risk be properly addressed. The principles outlined in this report should be used by all agencies to ensure the safety of staff and others using their properties.