Asbestos Awareness Week, from 26 to 30 November 2012, reminds us of the danger asbestos can pose and provides an opportunity to remember the families affected by asbestos-related diseases.
During Asbestos Awareness Week a range of events, activities and information sharing will focus attention on this issue which continues to affect workers, home renovators and their families. The week concludes on Friday 30 November with Asbestos Victims Memorial Day.
Asbestos Awareness Week - program of events
Asbestos and public health
Despite Australia stopping the production of asbestos containing products in 1987 and then banning their use and importation in December 2003, these products still exist in and around workplaces and homes built before the mid 1990s.
Caution needs to be taken when working with buildings constructed prior to 1990 or newer buildings that may contain recycled materials. Care should also be taken when maintaining gaskets in plant or equipment imported after December 2003, as instances of non-compliance with the import ban on asbestos have been detected.
If plant or other materials are imported from countries where asbestos is not yet prohibited, a quality assurance system should be put in place with suppliers to ensure they do not contain asbestos prior to supplying or using it in the workplace.
Asbestos, the name given to a group of fibrous minerals that occur naturally, was commonly used in a wide variety of industrial, manufacturing, building and construction applications in Australia from the 1940s to the mid 1990s. They were widely used because of their unique chemical and physical properties.
Asbestos was used in more than 3000 products. Large amounts of asbestos containing materials are still present in the community in both workplaces and non-workplaces, including domestic premises.
Products include -
- asbestos cement roofing (sheets and shingles)
- external asbestos cement wall cladding, including 'brick look' wall cladding
- internal asbestos cement wall linings and ceiling linings
- moulded products such as flues, downpipes, guttering and water pipes
- sealants, gaskets, adhesives and filters
- brake pads, clutch components and other friction products
- textiles - asbestos containing felts, ropes, fire blankets and woven asbestos cable sheathing
- flooring - vinyl floor tiles and asbestos backed sheets
- sprayed insulation materials used for fire-proofing, thermal protection, insulation and soundproofing
- lagging and insulation materials used in a wide range of electrical, thermal and acoustic applications
- rubber, plastic and paint products (particularly industrial epoxy paints)
It is now well known that exposure to asbestos fibres can cause health problems: pleural plaques and thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Asbestos becomes a health risk when fibres are released into the air and inhaled. It is unusual for an asbestos-related disease to develop from a single exposure. Generally, ongoing exposure to asbestos fibres is required.
The scale of the health risk associated with asbestos became publicly known after many people had been exposed to it in circumstances where it was not dealt with cautiously. Asbestos-related diseases generally have a delay or lag period of about 20 to 40 years between the first exposure and the onset of symptoms and detection of disease.
Does your home contain asbestos?
Home owners, particularly people renovating their home, should know if asbestos is in their house and what to do about it (PDF 208kb) before they start work.
The following Asbestos for Home Renovators segment from the Master Builders Association South Australia Building Ideas television program [1 September 2012] provides homeowners with tips to consider before starting any home renovation projects.
Does your workplace have an asbestos register?
Building owners and people who own plant and equipment containing asbestos must have a register (PDF 404kb) which shows the type, condition and location of any asbestos containing materials. If the owner of a building is not the occupier, the owner must provide a copy of the register to the occupier. If there is any alteration to the asbestos, the register must be updated and again the owner must supply a copy to the occupier.
A copy of the asbestos register must also be made available for inspection when requested by:
- a person who, in the course of their work, may come into contact with the asbestos
- a health and safety representative or committee member
- a SafeWork SA inspector.
Asbestos publications and resources
A number of publications are available to help businesses and homeowners identify and manage asbestos.