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In the 20th-century, asbestos was a prominent construction and industrial material. So far, it has been associated with thousands of Australian deaths. As a result, asbestos regulations may affect you, and you must keep them in mind. This post considers how asbestos regulations have evolved in Melbourne and Australia.
You can read up on the history of asbestos in Australia, the asbestos consumption rate, and amendments to Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. This article also discusses how to find out if your Melbourne property contains asbestos and reasons to hire licensed asbestos removalists in Melbourne.
History of Asbestos in Australia
The history of asbestos can be traced back to prehistoric times. However, Australia's history with asbestos began with the introduction of asbestos into Australia in the early 1900s.
The asbestos import or export status tilted largely towards the import end in the 1930s. Unprocessed asbestos was imported on a large scale to meet the high demands of the construction and industrial sectors.
This popularity was due to asbestos fibres' highly heat-resistant, durable, and fireproof nature. Chrysotile (white asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos), and amosite (brown asbestos) were the most commonly used forms of asbestos. Asbestos cement sheets were the most popular roofing choice for houses built in the 1940s-1960s.
Spray coatings for ceilings and walls typically contained asbestos materials during the 1950s. Likewise, asbestos and asbestos-containing building products such as vinyl floor tiles and spray-on fire protection were common. Meanwhile, Australia was a big worldwide player in asbestos mining during the 1950s and 1960s because of the import or export of asbestos.
Asbestos Consumption Rate in Australia
A comparison of international asbestos consumption reveals slightly higher asbestos in Australia consumption index until the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. This consumption growth continued until Australia recorded the highest global per capita asbestos consumption.
Over the period, the import and export of asbestos in Australia certainly contributed to a considerable total of apparent asbestos consumption. In addition, many asbestos-containing products were built in the period spanning between 40 to 100 years.
Today, some potential sources of asbestos exposure include the following:
- Unsafe asbestos removal practices
- Use of imported asbestos-containing products (such as building materials)
- Unsafe practices when managing asbestos waste
Asbestos cement and asbestos exposure
Asbestos cement is a common source of asbestos exposure, as older structures tend to contain asbestos cement. This is why construction workers, carpenters, and workers involved with such structures must be conscientious. They have to watch out for asbestos cement building materials.
According to the Asbestos Safety and Compensation Council, up to 90% of raw asbestos consumption occurred in cement products. Quite a large percentage was also found in asbestos cement sheeting in buildings.
Evolution of Australia's Asbestos Regulations
The health risks of asbestos in Australia have been recognised since the 1990s. The risks associated with handling asbestos materials have also been documented. For instance, WorkSafe Australia considers asbestos to be the single most significant causative factor of work-related deaths.
Australian asbestos regulations were first put into place in 1978. However, the use and importation of common forms of asbestos continued until the 2000s. Efforts to get asbestos banned in Australia became successful in 2003. Asbestos was nationally banned in Australia in 2003. Today, there is strict regulation on the use of asbestos in Australia.
Timeline of the evolution of asbestos regulations in Australia
- Ventilation laws were introduced in 1911 after widespread lung diseases were discovered among workers in gold mines.
- Western Australia specified 176 particles per cubic centimetre as the 'safe' dust limit.
- In 1985, Victoria recorded the first successful asbestos-related disease common law compensation claim.
- The Australian government's enactment of the National Environmental Protection Council Act 1994 gave room for National Environmental Protection Measures (NEPM).
- Australia effectively banned the manufacture and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACM) on 31 December 2003.
- The prestigious National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) developed the Code of Practice for Managing and Controlling Asbestos in Workplaces 2005.
- The Asbestos Diseases Research Foundation funded the opening of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute in 2009.
- The commonwealth statutory agency – Safe Work Australia – started operation on 1 November 2009.
- In 2011, the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2011 was nationally introduced. Furthermore, the Model WHS Regulations included a framework for managing workplace asbestos materials. This framework covered work relating to naturally occurring asbestos, asbestos removal, and requirements for asbestos removalists.
- Safe Work Australia's Model Codes of Practice on How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace and How to Safely Remove Asbestos were issued in December 2011. These codes contain helpful information on identifying asbestos materials and managing risks of exposure.
- In 2011, the Asbestos Disease Research Institute partnered with the Asbestos Education Committee to set up Betty in NSW.
- Betty was implemented in the form of asbestos awareness campaigns on the dangers of asbestos. This was particularly emphasised for home renovators as the initiative emphasised asbestos dangers in home renovations.
- In 2012, National Strategic Plans were recommended in the Asbestos Management Review Report to improve community awareness and management.
- The well-known Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency was established in July 2013. The context was broadened to include workplace asbestos safety and environmental and public health safety.
- Melbourne hosted the first international conference on Asbestos Safety in 2014.
- The Minister of Employment launched the revised national strategic plan for asbestos management and awareness on 28 August 2015.
- In 2017, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency's National Asbestos Profile was released. This profile provides safety information on asbestos management in Australia and historical background on previous asbestos exposures.
- The well-known National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness was developed in 2018. It spans across 2019-2023 and is still underway.
Amendments to work health and safety laws
WHS regulators are trained individuals who monitor and ensure you comply with WHS laws in your jurisdiction. They may issue an asbestos removal or containment notice upon discovering asbestos in a property.
There are new Model WHS Laws from Safe Work Australia to improve asbestos regulation. These improvements are specified in the Model WHS Legislation Amendment (Asbestos) 2019. With the new laws, WHS regulators can issue notices when there is reasonable ground to believe that prohibited asbestos is present.
Such notices must include the grounds for the belief of the presence of asbestos, details such as the condition and type of asbestos, control measures, and compliance deadline. The changes ultimately address potential gaps in the regulatory powers under the Model WHS laws.
Exposure and Asbestos-Related Diseases
Heavy exposures to asbestos fibres that asbestos mines and mill workers at Asbestos mines experienced led to various asbestos-related diseases. These diseases included lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
Cutting, drilling, sanding, or disturbing asbestos materials releases asbestos dust and fibres. This occurred frequently after power tools were introduced to building sites around the 1950s and 1960s.
After being exposed to asbestos through the inhalation of these asbestos fibres, the fibres become trapped and accumulate in lung cavities, which ultimately leads to asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and asbestosis.
Asbestos awareness on mesothelioma in Australia
Australia is one of the top three countries with the highest mesothelioma incidence rates in the world. In addition, it only trails the United Kingdom and records the second-highest mesothelioma mortality rate in the world.
Effects of mining operations and asbestos safety
The effects of asbestos mining operations in the past are still being felt. For instance, even though mine operators abandoned Woodsreef mine in the 1980s, large amounts of asbestos waste continued to pose risks of asbestos exposure.
Likewise, the mining, distributing, and manufacturing of asbestos products in the James Hardie plants and mines led to degrees of asbestos exposure. This ultimately caused immeasurable injury to workers.
Checking for Asbestos in Your Melbourne Property
Asbestos production may have been entirely banned in Australia, but the abundance of asbestos materials from past construction work can still pose a risk. You may not know what material contains asbestos unless it is clearly labelled or has been sampled and adequately tested.
According to Safework Australia, You should not investigate potential asbestos materials without getting help from a licensed asbestos surveyor. They can help you test, remove, and dispose of asbestos materials in your commercial property in a safe manner.
You need to be confident that the asbestos removalist has the requisite licence and experience to perform all forms of asbestos management. You also need an asbestos management plan to properly inspect and maintain non-friable asbestos, even if they do not pose a threat.
When is Asbestos Removal Not Appropriate?
You may think that urgent removal of asbestos is always called for in the management of asbestos. However, it may not always be the ideal solution. For instance, the current state of the asbestos may not pose a health risk, whereas your attempt at asbestos removal may create a health risk.
Persons who remove asbestos or asbestos products must complete the Remove Friable Asbestos course or the Remove Non-friable Asbestos course. This will help them correctly assess the health risks before removing asbestos.
Which Asbestos Contains Greater Health Risks?
Friable asbestos is usually powdery, and you can easily crush it to dust. This, therefore, increases the risk of exposure to asbestos as the asbestos particles can be easily released into the air. Non-friable asbestos materials are bonded to other materials, such as cement or plastic. Thus, friable asbestos contains more health risks compared to non-friable asbestos.
Seek Out Licenced Asbestos Removalists
Knowing how asbestos regulations have evolved in Melbourne and Australia is not enough for you to deal with asbestos in the home or workplace. Commercial or residential property owners, managers, and workers must invite professional licensed asbestos assessors for testing.
They also need only to hire licensed asbestos removalists to ensure that asbestos materials are removed and disposed of safely. These professionals have the proper training for testing and removing asbestos and the correct personal protective equipment (PPE). They know how to follow exposure standards and the appropriate disposal facilities.