As November is Asbestos Awareness Month, WorkCover Queensland has outlined the importance of maintaining occupational health and safety when handling these deadly fibres.
Asbestos a key problem in Australia
According to the Australian government, mesothelioma, the type of cancer most commonly caused by asbestos, causes an approximate 12 fatalities per week.
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) aims to combat these alarming figures through the annual International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management, a key component of Asbestos Awareness Month.
"Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos-related disease and death," ASEA CEO Peter Tighe stated.
"The risk of exposure to asbestos-related disease has not gone away with the end of asbestos mining and manufacturing – one-third of homes in Australia today contain asbestos products and the renovation boom is contributing to new threats."
This is particularly relevant for the construction sector as tradespeople are susceptible to the harmful effects of asbestos when undertaking work.
Workers lack knowledge on dealing with asbestos
According to a 2014 survey by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are specific jobs that are more likely to encounter asbestos material. The report estimates that tradespeople are most vulnerable to the hazardous fibres with construction workers, carpenters, painters, and decorators coming into contact with asbestos 100 times a year, on average.
"The number dying every year from asbestos-related diseases is unacceptably high. Despite being banned in the construction industry, asbestos exposure remains a very serious risk to tradespeople," the British Minister responsible for Health and Safety Mark Harper said.
The survey revealed that there was a lack of awareness on the optimal way of dealing with asbestos in a way that fosters work health and safety precautions. Over a quarter of respondents (27 per cent) wrongly perceived opening a window would protect them against the effects of asbestos. Moreover, 14 per cent thought that drinking water would help eliminate the adverse health impacts of the fibres.
According to HSE, more than half committed at least one major error when attempting to comply with safe practices. Only 30 per cent of respondents were capable of recognising the optimal measures to take when contact is made with asbestos.
"Asbestos is still a very real danger and the survey findings suggest that the people who come into contact with it regularly often don't know where it could be and worryingly don't know how to deal with it correctly, which could put them in harm's way," HSE's Chief Inspector for Construction Philip White explained.
Furthermore, there is also state legislation that requires asbestos registers to be kept if the infrastructure was built prior to a certain date.
"Chapter 8, Section 425 of the Queensland Work Health & Safety Regulation 2011 requires that a person with management or control of a workplace must ensure that an asbestos register is prepared and kept at a workplace, if it was constructed prior to 31 December 1989," states Greencap Principal Asbestos Consultant Stuart Rowley.
"If asbestos is identified at a workplace or is likely to be present, from time to time, Section 432 of the Regulation requires that a person with management and control of a workplace must ensure that a written plan (an Asbestos Management Plan) is prepared, maintained and readily accessible."
Why assess the risk?
As Asbestos Awareness Month highlights, the material is still a key health issue for many workplaces across the country. In order to deal with the hazard in the right manner, the extent of the risk must be adequately understood.
With hazardous materials, it is best to have external specialists audit your site so they are able to identify accurately any specific issues you have on your site. From here an Asbestos Management Plan can be prepared and ensures work health and safety standards are being met.
If you are concerned about the risk of asbestos in your site, contact Greencap to discuss what might be the next step. Greencap will be in attendance at the International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management in Brisbane 22-24 November and would be pleased to meet with you to answer all your asbestos questions.