Asbestos – The Facts


Asbestos – The Facts


A Little History Lesson

Asbestos has been used by mankind since early stages of human civilization, and mined commercially as far back as 4,000 years. It has been used in everything from cooking utensils, to building materials, in thermal protective clothing & right down to filters in WW2 gas masks and cigarette filters in the early 1960’s.

It is a naturally occurring mineral fibre, with excellent fire resistance, insulating properties with strong, durable and flexible fibres.

Australia had one of the largest commercial blue asbestos (Crocidolite) mines located at Wittenoom, WA, which operated for many years last century, until the use of Crocidolite was phased out in 1967 in Australia. Brown asbestos (Amosite) and white asbestos (Chrysotile) were also mined and used in Australia up until the 1980’s, with a total prohibition of asbestos usage coming into effect on the 31st December 2003.

Health Risks Relating to Asbestos

Asbestos is a designated carcinogen, and no safe level of exposure has been determined.

However, the theory that one fibre will kill you needs to be tempered with the practical physiological effects of exposure in that it is a doseresponse relationship.Asbestos can be found naturally in the air outdoors and in some drinkable water, including water from natural sources.

Overseas studies have shown that persons in the general population (nonoccupationally exposed) potentially have tens of thousands of asbestos particles in their lungs.

Asbestos exposure generally becomes a major health concern when high concentrations of asbestos fibres are inhaled, often by those who are exposed to asbestos materials on a day-to-day basis in their work. asbestos possesses a unique geometry, with fibres that can penetrate into the deepest recesses of the lungs.

If not disturbed through physical interaction (i.e. not broken, crushed, pulverised, cut, drilled or damaged in any way), asbestos is a substance that will not release fibres or dust to the extent where it could become a respiratory hazard.

Asbestos only presents a risk through the inhalation of airborne fibres (in some instances ingestion), and not through skin contact or other means.

Contracting an asbestos-related disease such as Mesothelioma, Asbestosis, Pleural Thickening or lung cancer, has serious consequences and is in most cases ultimately fatal.

If a material or substance is suspected of containing asbestos, it should be treated as such until it is analysed.

Legislative Obligations Relating to Asbestos - National

Managers must:

  • Not allow workers to carry out work involving asbestos unless licensed to do so, or unless the material is <10sqm and contains non-friable asbestos only.
  • Ensure exposure to airborne asbestos is eliminated as far as reasonably practicable, and the exposure standard of 0.1 fibres/ml is not exceeded at the workplace.
  • Ensure all asbestos containing material (ACM) at the workplace is identified by a competent person.
  • An asbestos register is maintained up-to-date, and is reviewed (by a competent person) at least every 5 years.
    • Any building constructed after the 31st December 2003 is assumed to be asbestos free (i.e. does not need to be included on the register) unless there is cause to assume otherwise (e.g. old recycled material was used).
  • The presence and location of asbestos is to be labeled.
  • An up-to-date (< 5 years) asbestos management plan must be maintained, and include:
    • Reference to the asbestos register;
    • Signage and labelling of asbestos;
    • Safe work procedures;
    • Control measures e.g. prohibit use of power tools, brooms or implements that could cause fibre release;
    • Procedures for emergency and incident response e.g. damage to building clad with ACM;
    • Training for workers involved with asbestos;
    • Only use licensed removalist, unless < 10 sq. m of non-friable asbestos (e.g. AC sheeting).

Additional Obligations in Victoria

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 part 4.3 Asbestos includes provisions that:

  • Allow an unlicensed person to undertake asbestos removal, if the asbestos is non-friable and – less than ten (10) square meters in total area and – asbestos removal does not take longer than one (1) hour in any seven (7) – day period;
  • Require the person with management or control of the workplace and employers to ensure that in situ asbestos is identified, that risk assessments are carried out and maintained, and that risks to health are controlled;
  • Require asbestos removal within workplaces to be conducted safely and without risk to any persons;
  • Prohibit the use, storage, sale, supply, transport, manufacture, re-use, installation and replacement of all forms of ACM from 31 December 2003.

The prohibition is made under the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 and is therefore not restricted to workplaces, and applies to all persons including homeowners.

However, the prohibition does not extend to asbestos products that were previously installed and ‘in use’ at the time the prohibition came into effect.

If you would like any further information on asbestos, call Phil Kamay, Associate Director or the team on T. (03) 9690 6311.

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