New asbestos safety rules take effect from Friday

Law revised to protect workers from disease-causing materials

Revised rules to protect workers from exposure to asbestos - mineral fibres in construction material that can cause diseases - will take effect from Friday.

That is when the Workplace Safety and Health (Asbestos) Regulations will replace the existing Factories (Asbestos) Regulations, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.

Under the new rules, an asbestos survey must be carried out before any work involving certain materials or before building works such as demolition or alteration.

This must be done by someone with enough experience and training and who has passed the Survey Asbestos and Other Fibres Risks at the Workplace Course, under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications framework.

Identified asbestos-containing material, such as old partition walls built before asbestos materials were banned here in 1989, must also be removed before demolition.

And this can only be done by an Approved Asbestos-Removal Contractor (AARC).

This is a new scheme, and contractors can apply to be an AARC from next Friday onwards. They must meet requirements such as having a level 3 or higher certification in the Workplace Safety and Health Council's bizSAFE programme, and having at least one person trained for asbestos removal.

Employers and contractors must take measures to minimise the release and spread of asbestos, such as wetting asbestos-containing material.

They must also ensure workers are aware of the dangers of asbestos and the precautions to take. Exposure to asbestos dust can cause lung diseases, including lung cancer, but the symptoms may take decades to appear after the first exposure.

However, contractors undertaking work involving asbestos do not have to inform the MOM as early as they had to before.

Previously, they had to notify the MOM of such work at least 28 days before it started. With the new regulations, the AARC must do this at least seven days before.

The new rules, which are in line with international practices, were developed in consultation with workplace safety and health professionals, contractors, employers and employees.

A month-long public consultation was also conducted in July last year to gather feedback on the proposed regulations.

Those who do not comply with the regulations face a fine of up to $20,000, two years' jail, or both.

janiceh@sph.com.sg