Illegal asbestos removal ends in prosecution

24 June 2024

A roofing and cladding contractor has been prosecuted over the illegal and unlicensed removal of asbestos from a family home on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal has convicted Steven Cutts, trading as SC Roofing and Cladding, and applied an initial fine of $84,000 following a SafeWork SA investigation.

The judgement sends a clear message to the industry that significant penalties apply for the illegal and unlicensed removal of asbestos.

In 2022, Mr Cutts was engaged to carry out building works on a home occupied by a married couple and their newborn baby. The work included the removal of a licensable quantity of external cladding known to contain asbestos.

During the work in early September 2022, the homeowner became concerned the work was not being done in a safe or competent manner based on his observations including:

  • No warning signs or barricades
  • Workers breaking apart the asbestos cladding using crowbars and leaving debris in the front yard
  • No air monitoring
  • No plastic sheeting on the ground or on the trailer
  • Workers driving away with a trailer load of uncovered asbestos material.

Concerns were raised with SafeWork SA and investigators attended the property to observe the asbestos removal work in progress on 6 September 2022. An immediate prohibition was placed on the work being done to prevent further work at the site and samples were taken for testing.

The tests confirmed that seven out of eight samples collected during the site inspection contained asbestos.

About 38sq m of ‘fake brick’ fibre cement sheeting was removed from the house.

Associated debris were present in the immediate vicinity of the removal areas and extended onto the driveway and into the garden beds of the property.

The tribunal found that due to the lack of air monitoring during the works, it is not possible to know whether any of the family, neighbours or workers inhaled or ingested asbestos fibres sufficient to cause disease in the future.

However, the lack of safety measures surrounding the asbestos removal posed a significant health risk to them all.

SafeWork SA charged Mr Cutts with two offences related to unlawful asbestos removal under section 33 and section 43 of the Work Health and Safety Act.

The first is a Category 3 offence relating to undertaking asbestos removal work in an unsafe manner. The second charge is a summary offence for undertaking asbestos removal work while not licenced to do so.

A Class A or Class B asbestos removal licence is required to carry out the removal of more than 10 square metres of non-friable asbestos, found in a lot of older houses.

Magistrate Eaton imposed a $70,000 fine for the first offence and $14,000 for the second offence. The fines were reduced to a combined total of $67,200 following a 20 per cent discount.

The fines were then waived due to personal circumstances.

Instead, Magistrate Eaton ordered Mr Cutts to pay the homeowner $11,330 in compensation and a victim injury compensation levy of $686.

The homeowner engaged SC Roofing and Cladding following a Google search and paid Mr Cutts $11,000 of the quoted $13,500 for the works involving the removal and replacement of external cladding, including the removal and dumping of asbestos.

The Google ads and Facebook posts promoting Mr Cutts’ business have now been removed. He has also cancelled the ABN for the business.

In her sentencing remarks, Magistrate Eaton said the financial strain on the homeowner and the need to spend further to complete the works safely meant that he was unable to cover the operating costs of his business, causing it to close.

“All this is against the background of ongoing worry that the baby may suffer greatly later in life, through exposure to asbestos fibres at such a young age,” Magistrate Eaton said.

“There can be no end to a parent’s concern in those circumstances.

“It is difficult to contemplate a more egregious example of an offence in this category, both in terms of Mr Cutts’ culpability and the danger to the victims including a newborn baby.”

Attribute to SafeWork SA Executive Director Glenn Farrell:

This judgement sends a clear message to industry that the illegal and unlicensed removal of asbestos will not be tolerated.

A greater emphasis on removing asbestos-contained materials from the environment in the future, means those undertaking this type of work will be under greater scrutiny and need to be appropriately licensed and uphold the highest standards of safety.

The case also demonstrates the importance of checking the credentials and professionalism of contractors before engaging them to work on your home.

This is especially critical when dealing with hazardous substances such as asbestos, and I encourage people to contact SafeWork SA if unsure.