Australia's asbestos legacy continues to impact the health of people 20 years after the material was banned. For many years, the law has required organisations to conduct building inspections to identify the presence of asbestos but some are yet to fulfil their statutory obligations. In fact, a recent audit of Catholic organisations showed that some 60 per cent of building inspections were being undertaken for the very first time. Effectively, these organisations were in breach of existing asbestos safety compliance obligations. It's likely that other obligations around asbestos weren't met either, the development of an asbestos register or Asbestos Management Plan in particular. Understanding the law your duty of care in relation to asbestos is just as important as understanding the risks associated with poor controls.
During November, Safework Australia's National Asbestos Awareness campaign aims to educate organisations about the dangers of asbestos. Organisations are encouraged to undertaking inspections and review their legal obligations to protect people in the workplace. Building maintenance managers, tradespeople, and commercial or residential property owners are also encouraged to increase their knowledge of asbestos risk, and to consider the elements of asbestos safety management.
Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral and was primarily used in building and industrial materials for insulation, during the 20th Century. In 2003, Australia stopped importing and using asbestos but many buildings still contain it in various forms of building material. Asbestos becomes a health risk when its fibres are released into the air and inhaled. Asbestos exposure can lead to asbestosis (long-term scarring of the lungs), lung cancer, or mesothelioma (lung tumors), along with other cancer-related diseases.
have a responsibility to determine whether asbestos is present in the workplace.
This table outlines
State / Territory requirements for workplace inspections as there are
differences between states. All organisations, nationally, are required to have
their buildings inspected for asbestos depending on the age of the structure.
asbestos is identified in buildings, only some will need to be removed.
Asbestos is sometimes best left undisturbed and will not present health risks,
while in other cases the only solution to protect the health and safety of
people will be to remove it. Check the work health and safety regulator in your state or territory for information, codes of practice, asbestos licensed assessors, and WHS compliance matters.
Asbestos was once used in Australia in more than 3000 products including fibro, flue pipes, drains, roofs, gutters, brakes, clutches, and gaskets.
The most common form of asbestos-related disease is lung cancer, followed by mesothelioma. Other diseases are asbestosis and asbestos-related cancers of the larynx and ovaries
Approximately 87 per cent of people who die from asbestos-related diseases are male. Most people with asbestos-related disease are over 65, given the long latency period of 20 to 40 years for a disease such as mesothelioma
701 is the average number of people diagnosed with mesothelioma each year since 2011 - Australian Mesothelioma Registry
Organisations must provide an asbestos-safe work environment and are obliged to protect those who may encounter asbestos.
If you manage or control a workplace, you are responsible for ensuring and managing workplace inspections by an authorised asbestos professional such as a Licensed Asbestos Assessor. This table outlines State / Territory requirements for workplace inspections as there are differences between states. All organisations, nationally, are required to have their buildings inspected for asbestos depending on the age of the structure.
If you find asbestos, your organisation needs to prepare an asbestos register and maintain and store it at the workplace. The register lists all identified—or assumed—asbestos in a workplace.
Your asbestos report will outline:
details of the person/company who did the asbestos audit
the location of the asbestos
a description of materials that contain/are suspected to contain asbestos (and photos)
laboratory testing results (if a sample was taken)
recommended action (asbestos management or removal plan)
Organisations must develop an asbestos management plan to be reviewed every five years. It should hold up-to-date information relating to safe work procedures and control measures, key personnel responsible for managing the plan, and how to manage an asbestos emergency.
A duty holder must control and manage the asbestos containing materials within the workplace. Removal of asbestos material is the safest option
When impractical to remove asbestos, following a hierarchical process of steps may involve encapsulating the asbestos material, painting it, sealing the material, before following other administrative controls including labelling of asbestos materials, and ensuring the asbestos register and management plan are available
Removing asbestos from a workplace requires the expertise of a licensed asbestos removalist. Your work health and safety regulator can provide information and advice about asbestos removal licensing and training.
Workers involved in asbestos removal or any aspect of disturbing asbestos containing materials need their health monitored. All organisations have a duty of care to observe this WHS obligation.
CCI's Risk Service Team provides support and resources to clients who need to know more about asbestos and can assist with asbestos inspections through their risk partners.
To find out more about asbestos or asbestos management services contact Risksupport Helpdesk on 1300 660 827 and firstname.lastname@example.org
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare - Mesothelioma in Australia 2019
Asbestos Safety and Eradication - Getting an Asbestos Inspection
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