Understanding asbestos

Understanding Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre that was mined for generation for use in an array of products. Three main asbestos types were mined for commercial use Chrysotile (White Asbestos), Amosite (Brown Asbestos) and Crocidolite (Blue Asbestos).

It has a number of properties which made it an excellent choice for use in products such as roofing, cement sheeting, textiles, friction products but to name a few.

These properties include:
 

  • Fireproof
  • Great insulator
  • Resistance to corrosion
  • Tensile strength (Stronger than steel)

 

Unfortunately, these properties also include the side effect of being carcinogenic (known to cause cancer) to humans. The main illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos are Lung Cancer, Mesothelioma, Asbestosis and Pleural Plaques. The tiny nature of the fibres and resistance to corrosion prevent the human body from rejecting/removing them. Over time, the damage the fibres cause is fatal. Exposure to 1 asbestos fibre is not likely to be fatal. Exposure is usually fatal in higher concentrations of airborne fibres over a prolonged period of time. This is not always the case. The “Third wave” of asbestos related diseases in Australia are coming from people conducting DIY and home renovations.

Many experts believe that asbestos is safe once it is left alone, it only causes health risks when disturbed. This is true, however, some ACMs by nature are susceptible to daily erosion/deterioration that may not be classified as “damage”. Excessive weathering for example is a leading factor in the degradation of asbestos roofing resulting in asbestos contamination in the dust below the roof. ACMs can most definitely be managed in-situ and maintained in good condition, until an accident occurs which damages them and potentially leads to an exposure. The best solution is to proactively remove the ACM and eliminate the risk of exposure.

Working safely with asbestos can be conducted, some State based regulators provide examples of how you can safely work with asbestos, however it is usually best left to the experts. Removing asbestos should only ever be conducted by a Licensed asbestos removal contractor. The identification of ACMs and assessment of the risk posed by an ACM should always be determined by someone that has had the necessary training to be able to undertake these assessments. An example of this is an occupational hygienist.

Asbestos can legally be removed from your home by yourself, however it must be transported and disposed of correctly. NEVER put asbestos waste in your bin. It must be disposed of at an EPA licensed landfill. Again however, removal should only ever be undertaken by a licensed asbestos removal contractor and supervised by an independent hygienist (e.g. ACA).

An asbestos register is a legally required document for your workplace under Australia law. A register is not required for a domestic premises if the premises is solely used for living purposes.

It is a record of the known presence, type, condition and likelihood pf disturbance of ACMs at your workplace. The benefit of having a register, other than regulatory compliance, is being able to provide peace of mind to building occupants and staff that the asbestos in the workplace has been assessed and identified in a certain condition. It is also a useful tool to provide contractors prior to any works being conducted on sites that may endanger their health. An asbestos register must be updated at a frequency of not exceeding 5 years. It should also be updated whenever there is any change to the status of any ACMS in the building e.g. ACM removal, encapsulated etc.

Regulatory requirements in Australia may vary slightly in terms of wording, but ultimately have the same set of outcomes. To prevent asbestos exposure in the workplace. You, as the Person in control of the workplace or the PCBU have certain obligations to meet under the Regulations. Identifying the presence of asbestos is one of them.