Asbestos removal

Donald Hendricks, Salt River

The story on your property page “Asbestos compliance and removal” (Plainsman, March 31) refers.

According to the article the Asbestos Abatement Regulations, 2020 which replaces the Asbestos Regulations of 2001 states that should asbestos be identified in the workplace, the employer is required to employ a qualified person to compile an initial asbestos inventory and risk assessment as well as follow up reports at intervals of no more than 24 months.

To me it seems that they are forcing a law on home, property owners, public spaces including government schools and hospitals to have their specialised people remove these asbestos materials.

We as apprentices and artisans worked on building sites, either putting up or taking down those asbestos roofing materials. We were more exposed to all types of asbestos dust, when working for building, roofing and plumbing contractors without masks, gloves or any protective clothing in the early 70s/80s during the Apartheid era and not one of us suffered from illness relating to asbestos dust as far as we know.

The danger was the asbestos miners in the Karoo, where families started getting sick and lawyers are fighting an ongoing compensation for years and not sure whether these families were paid.

The finished asbestos products, especially roofing gutters, flexit board and vinyl asbestos floor tiles and many more cannot be a health risk because we had openly worked with these products.

The best people to remove and identify asbestos are the same workers of roofing contractors who installed it and are still around today.

This seems to be a money-making scheme because last year there was a controversial contract to “audit and assess” houses with asbestos roofs in the Free State.

It was awarded unlawfully and at least one top official involved in the deal was guilty of maladministration and gross negligence, a new Public Protector report has determined.

The public protector found that the contract saw more than R200-million being drained from the province’s coffers with no “value for money”.

They had to remove old asbestos roof materials in a residential area and this is still under scrutiny because the people are saying nothing has been done yet.

The question we ask, why is the government paying millions of rands for the removal of asbestos roofs and home or property owners, who are unemployed or retired pensioners due to the Covid-19 pandemic pay for asbestos removal?

Musa Zondi, Department of Employment and Labour acting chief director of communications, responds

Firstly, it is important to note that the legislation referred to, namely the: Asbestos Abatement Regulations 2020, is not new legislation but that asbestos exposure in the work environment has been regulated for at least the past 21 years.

Also keep in mind that the then Department of Environmental Affairs (now Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) promulgated the Regulations for the prohibition of the use, manufacturing, import and export of asbestos and asbestos containing materials in 2008.

The Technical Committee established by the Department of Employment and Labour (the Department) considered the international landscape and approach to asbestos and asbestos risks in drafting the regulations.

The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Asbestos Convention, 1986 (No. 162), provides for the measures to be taken for the prevention and control of and protection of workers against health hazards due to occupational exposure to asbestos.

The ILO notes that all forms of asbestos are classified as human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and expresses its concern that workers continue to face serious risks from asbestos exposure, particularly in asbestos removal, demolition, building maintenance, ship breaking and waste handling activities.

The Technical Committee is constituted of government officials, representatives from organised labour and organised business as well as industry specialists – all play valuable roles in drafting the regulations.

Several countries such as the UK have reported an increase in asbestos related illnesses amounts to maintenance or non-asbestos workers, such as plumbers and electricians who are exposed to asbestos building materials in the areas they work.

The same can be expected in South Africa, as although we stopped mining of asbestos in 2002, many of our buildings still contain asbestos in various forms, like materials such as roof sheets, floor tiles, ceiling boards and insulation.

Asbestos fibres are released and get airborne from asbestos containing materials when these materials are not in tack and are disturbed or broken.

Once the fibres are airborne they are easily breathed in.

It is a well-known fact that the adverse health effects of asbestos exposure are not immediately evident but may only present after a long latency period of between 10 to 45 years.

However, this possibly results in mesothelioma or lung cancer, which is fatal.

The Asbestos Relief Trust and the Kgalagadi Relief Trust was established to manage claims, from workers previously involved in mining asbestos and communities exposed due to mining.

Currently there is not a “cut-off” date as to when all asbestos containing materials must be removed from buildings in South Africa.

The Asbestos Abatement Regulations does however require every employer to ensure asbestos containing materials are identified and included in a written inventory.

This inventory of asbestos in place will form the basis for the risk assessment and the management plan.

The management plan should indicate how the risk to the health of employees will be prevented and controlled, if the asbestos containing materials are in a poor state removal and final disposal may be the best option.

Around 320 companies are currently registered with the department to perform asbestos removal work in the country.

Every month new applications are received and processed by the department.

A list of registered asbestos contractors can be obtained from the Department’s website. (www.labour.gov.za)

The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 85 of 1993 as amended under which these regulations were promulgated aims to provide for the safety and health of people at work and in connection with the use of plant and machinery. It further provides for the protection of people other than people at work from hazards arising out of or in connection with the activities from people at work.