Advice and Opinion

The risks of using non-compliant contractors for asbestos removal

Construction in any form from new builds, roofing, and asbestos removal is risky, posting significant dangers to site staff, employees, and visitors. According to asbestos removal and building refurbishment contractor, Indawo, the nature of these activities results in a prevalence of accident rates.

Indawo managing director, Geoffrey Jäck, says the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Act 85 of 1993) governs safety and more specifically, the construction regulations provide guidelines for construction site safety. The Asbestos Abatement Regulations 2020 passed into law in November last year is clear and its intention is to protect the contractor, site staff, and the client by placing compliance in the spotlight.

Legislation and regulations, along with the Building Industry Bargaining Council, are designed to eliminate hazards on site and non-compliance from a contractor, is risky for clients.

Jäck says there are risks employing a non-compliant contractor, especially for asbestos removal projects. With the history of the dangers of asbestos inhalation, non-compliant contractors place their workers at risk, which is the predominant reason why this material is under scrutiny.

Asbestos and the property industry effect

This not only highlights the importance of approved asbestos removal but demands it. The property industry is set to be impacted as buildings with asbestos roofs and substructures will be significantly impacted in terms of their investment value and selling prices. Banks will more likely approve mortgage finance for asbestos-free buildings and homes in the future than those with damaged asbestos.

With a roof making up a significant portion of a building’s structure, property values will be far more in danger, pricewise, than the cost of replacing asbestos. Not complying with the regulations may result in significant fines and even imprisonment for both the contractor and client.

Jäck refers to clause 25 of the regulations which states that “any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of regulation 3 up to and including regulation 24 is guilty of an offence and upon conviction liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months and, in the case of a continuous offence, to an additional fine of R500,00 for each day on which the offence continues or to additional imprisonment of one day for each day on which the offence continues: Provided that the period of such additional imprisonment must in no case exceed 90 days.”

Building owners employing non-compliant contractors will be jointly liable for harm caused to anyone and for not complying with the regulations.

The onus is on building owners to have an inventory of all asbestos on their buildings by May 2022.

Removing asbestos

Damaged asbestos releases dangerous fibres, even deadly, if inhaled over a long period. Schools, factories, warehouses, malls, offices, and many industrial workshops still have asbestos roofs, and many of these are damaged.

Compliance means following legislation that governs asbestos removal. Compliant contractors must ensure site safety, which will be declared dangerous by health and safety officers. Damaged asbestos releases fibres and reputable contractors are skilled in the removal and disposal of asbestos in a safe and compliant manner.

Undamaged asbestos poses little threat, says Jäck, but the law states damaged asbestos cannot be repaired, it must be replaced. Removing damaged asbestos roof sheeting invariably causes damage to adjacent sheeting, and ultimately the entire roof will need to be replaced, in most cases.

Only TYPE 3 Registered Asbestos Contractors are permitted to remove damaged asbestos.

Economic impact of damaged asbestos

Property investors are increasingly demanding that buildings conform to health and safety regulations and Asbestos Abatement Regulations November 2020. Property owners are under pressure to replace asbestos to become asbestos free and protect their investment.

Jäck says industries that will feel the heat will include food and beverage, pharmaceutical, pet food and textiles as well as offices, schools, medical facilities, and malls that not only have asbestos roof sheeting, but asbestos ceilings too. These industries need to be asbestos-free.

While the life expectancy of asbestos can be 50 years, the last installation was in the 1980’s and we are heading to the 50-year mark. This assumes that there is no damage. Over time, owners would, likely, have installed substructures, which would have had to be secured to the roof, damaging the asbestos.

Jäck says there are still many non-compliant contractors putting the health of their staff and clients at risk. Compliance certificates are legally required, and the Department of Employment and Labour must be informed of planned asbestos work. Approval will not be given to non-compliant contractors.

Before starting any asbestos work consult with an approved and registered asbestos contractor