The Canberra Builder is under investigation by the WorkSafe ACT after the former received an accusation for exposing a young family to asbestos. The said investigation will most likely result in a prosecution.
The incident happened last May 2013. It was reported by the Canberra Times that the Kambah family, comprised of Justin and Erin Thompson with their two children Dan (5 years old) and Sarah (3 years old), were forced to temporarily abandon their residence for three weeks due to asbestos contamination.
The family hired the Canberra Builder to renovate their bathroom. The Canberra Builder used angle grinders to cut through asbestos sheeting in the house, so the asbestos fibres spread out in their house. At that time, the family were all present and Mrs. Thompson was cleaning the asbestos fibres from every surfaces in the living and kitchen areas. The family was not aware of the danger they are facing for inhaling the dangerous asbestos until one neighbour noticed and went to alert them. The same neighbor called WorkSafe ACT immediately.
The use of asbestos in manufacturing and building became popular in the late 19th century. But it was discovered that asbestos brings danger to the workers’ health. The prolonged inhalation of asbestos can cause several serious illnesses including lung cancer. The European Union has already banned all use of asbestos. Hence, if the ACT government finds out that the Canberra Builder’s employees are illegally working with the toxic substance, their business license will definitely be suspended and withdrawn.
Mark McCabe, ACT Work Safety Commissioner, is initially proposing an on-the-spot fine of $5,000 for builders who fail to dispose the asbestos properly. The proposed fine will be considered as part of the ACT government's review of the Dangerous Substances Act, which will be formally presented for discussions in the coming Spring. The new fine schedule will take effect from January 1 next year.
Commissioner McCabe confirmed recently that the company involved in the incident is being probed by the organization's serious incidents investigations team. According to McCabe, if it was proven that the company committed a serious breach on the Work Health and Safety Act, the case against the Canberra Builder will really end up in court. Later on, he added that the impending consequence is severe. Aside from large amount of fines, the director of the company could face jail time.
Considering that a family was exposed to asbestos to a certain level, the public will surely be affected and will also demand prosecution against the company especially if Canberra Builder is proven guilty of a breach of the health and safety laws.
A spokesperson for the ACT Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate said that any work with asbestos has to be undertaken by a licensed personnel. The company must secure an active building approval and an asbestos control plan. But the Canberra Builder failed to have all these requirements present during the time they performed the renovation of the Thompson family’s bathroom. Although, the spokesperson affirmed that the investigation is still ongoing and a decision is yet to be made based on the outcome of further investigations and on the advice from WorkSafe ACT.
Meanwhile, the builder remained silent on the issue.
The incident really cost the Thompson family losses in many ways. Mentally, they were still shaken by that unfortunate event that left their house contaminated by the toxic substance. Physically, their health is in danger so they will undergo the required medical tests for life-threatening illnesses that they may get from the exposure on the asbestos. Economically, they lost quite a lot of money. After the incident, Mr. Thompson hired another builder to renovate their bathroom. They were able to use their bathroom again after nine weeks. According to Mr. Thompson, about 120 of their personal items were contaminated and destroyed eventually. The builder even refused to refund the family's $6,000 deposit. The builder did not even gave some compensations.