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QUESTION: Re: government rebates: Do insulation installers have to clean the ceiling dust before starting their installation?

06/03/09   Victoria, Australia

I am thinking of getting insulation under the Government's new rebate scheme. Do insulation installers have to clean the ceiling dust before starting their installation?



ANSWER: Mar  6 2009

Hi Richard,

Thankyou for your very thoughtful question.

I have certainly written to the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) to recommend that (the removal of ceiling dust prior to installation of insulation) as the only responsible policy, and I believe a ceiling dust removalist in Melbourne, Jeffrey Strauss of Ceiling Alert has similarly put the suggestion to the Sustainability Victoria, but to my knowledge both organisations are still in denial about the hazards of ceiling dust (to residents, ceiling void workers and to the environment), or at least they are keen to reduce the costs of their rebate programs.

I proposed to NSW DECC that there really is no better time to remove ceiling dust than when you are installing insulation, (and now that lead is no longer in petrol the rate of future accumulation of leaded ceiling dusts will be drastically lower than the pre-2002 rate of accumulation) and that since the rebate scheme encourages the installation of insulation, the government has a responsibility to, at the same time as offering the rebate, at the least advise people of the hazards of ceiling dust, or better still, offer a rebate for the ceiling dust removal as well. See for all the reasons why ceiling dust removal is good for health and the environment.

In Sydney, DECC has issued a licence to secondary lead smelter Australian Refined Alloys (ARA) to recycle the lead out of ceiling dust and thus decrease the toxicity and volume of the dust in the waste-stream. You could suggest to the Victoria EPA that they issue a similar licence to Melbourne's secondary lead smelter, Simstar Alloys Pty Ltd, Australia 50% Nyrstar interest. Getting the leaded ceiling dust out of ceiling voids now also means that residents will be much less exposed to that toxic dust (as it makes it's way into the living space through cracks in cornices, wall vents etc) for the next 50 years or so, and the workers who install the insulation plus the workers who eventually replace the insulation will not be exposed to it either.

Under the OH&S Regulations of Victoria and NSW, it is my understanding that an employer is required to identify hazards and devise a hazard management plan prior to sending workers (like insulation installers) into hazardous workspaces (like ceiling voids). The best and only thoroughgoing hazard management plan for the hazard of ceiling dust is it's full removal prior to the insulation installer entering the ceiling void. Thus, the answer to your question is, yes, an appropriately trained professional HAS to clean out ceiling dust before the insulation installers start their installation, IF an employer is complying with OH&S regulations. (Certainly, it would not be required that the insulation installers themselves would have to do this work for which they are likely not trained and for which they likely do not have the appropriate truck- or trailer-mounted industrial HEPA vac equipment). See our Info Pack on ceiling dust (in a separate email) which points to the Australian Dust Removalist's (ADRA's) Code of Practice for Ceiling Dust Removal, and to the NSW WorkCover Authority's Guidance Note on the topic.

The trouble with the general requirement for hazard identification and hazard management planning in the OH&S regulations, is that unless a worker sues their employer for not following the regulation in relation to the hazards of ceiling dust, employers are always going to remain ignorant (or are going to pretend to remain ignorant for as long as they can get away with it) of the hazards of ceiling dust. Thus there are VERY FEW insulation installation companies, or indeed attic conversion companies or attic ladder installation companies, or ceiling replacement companies or demolition contractors etc, that actually identify the hazard of ceiling dust and then insist that their employees are protected from it - by dint of it being removed prior to them working in or under the ceiling void.

WorkCover Authorities in each state need to have more powerful / useful OH&S regulations that actually require the WorkCover Authorities to proactively INFORM the industry about this fairly recently identified hazard. So until the regulations change, or, WorkCover Authority staff suddenly develop a desire to prevent preventable worker exposures to hazards, employers will continue to either actually remain ignorant of the hazards of ceiling dust, or pretend to be ignorant.

If I might be so bold, can I suggest that you write to Sustainability Victoria and point out all the ways that removal of ceiling dust prior to installation of insulation meets their core values (see below) and leads to sustainable work practices, sustainable detoxed housing for residents, reduced dispersal of toxic dust into the environment during future demolition and building work, and the return of some lead (from petrol and paint) into more sustainable lead uses such as batteries; and ask them to create a concomitant ceiling dust removal rebate, to go with their insulation rebate. I'd be very interested to hear their response.

Reference: Updated 25 October 2012

About Sustainability Victoria

Leading the way in waste management and resource efficiency

About us

Sustainability Victoria's statutory objective is to facilitate and promote environmental sustainability in the use of resources. Established under the Sustainability Victoria Act 2005, we are a statutory authority with a board appointed by the Minister for Environment and Climate Change.

SV has obligations under the Environment Protection Act 1970 for state-wide waste management strategy and planning, as well as managing the Sustainability Fund.

Our vision

To maximise value from resources to support a liveable and prosperous Victoria.

Our purpose

To lead integrated waste management and resource efficiency in Victoria.

Our focus

Integrated waste management

  • A state-wide, forward thinking approach to Victoria's waste and resource efficiency infrastructure.
  • Increased uptake of waste minimisation practices.
  • New, expanded markets for recycled products and materials.
  • Increased recovery of products and materials that pose a risk or are a valuable resource
  • Reduced littering behaviour and litter.

Resource efficiency

Increased energy efficiency in:

  • commercial office buildings
  • households.

Increased energy and materials efficiency in:

  • small to medium enterprises
  • schools.

Increased local low emission energy supply

  • through cleaner technologies such as cogeneration, trigeneration and using food waste to generate energy.


Such a rebate would set a global precedent and would give Victoria the right

to view itself as the greenest "leading thinking" state.

What do you think?

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O'Brien

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