The Shark of the Workplace
We are all aware that sharks and asbestos are dangerous, but many people think asbestos is an old risk of previous decades. Unfortunately, asbestos is still very relevant to all of us today.
Asbestos is responsible for over 1,000 Australian deaths every year, with 650 new cases of deadly Mesothelioma diagnosed in 2015 alone.
Medical experts estimate 17,000 more asbestos related deaths will occur before this “industrial plague”, set off a hundred years ago, is subdued in Australia.
Types of Asbestos
You will occasionally hear people mention; white, brown and blue asbestos, which begs us to ask what does this mean?
These titles represent the unique fibre types.
1. Chrysotile (white) asbestos
The most commonly found type of asbestos in Australian buildings, and considered less harmful than brown or blue asbestos, although current regulations impose the same exposure standard for all types of asbestos.
2. Amosite (brown) asbestos
Brown asbestos is not as common as white asbestos and poses greater health risks due to its need-like fibres that easily enter deep into the lungs.
3. Crocidolite (blue) asbestos
Blue asbestos is considered the most dangerous type of asbestos and like brown asbestos has needle-like fibres. Blue asbestos is associated with fatal mesothelioma.
It is typically found in Australia in the high-profile (Super 6) corrugated asbestos cement (AC) wall, fence and roof sheeting. The Super 6 AC sheeting was manufacture from the 1950s right up to 1985, so there is still a lot of this material around.
Asbestos is also divided into:
a) Friable; or
b) Non-Friable material.
Friable asbestos is defined as material that can be readily crushed into a powder with hand pressure when dry eg sprayed asbestos insulation. Most AC sheeting is considered non-friable.
Asbestos in Every Building
Asbestos was progressively restricted as knowledge of the extent of the health problems grew, and was totally banned in Australia from 31 December 2003.
The national code of practice on asbestos* states you must assume asbestos is in every building, including domestic, industrial and commercial, unless:
a) It was constructed after 2003 with no re-used materials or plant; or
b) Totally constructed of brick, steel or concrete, with no fibro or gyprock walls; or
c) Where professional sampling confirms it is asbestos free.