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Statistics show that Australia was once number four (in 1954) in the Western world in the gross consumption of asbestos cement products. Exposure to asbestos dust and crystalline silica was a usual occupational hazard.

Today, regulations enforce asbestos control measures to reduce hazardous exposure. This is also true for the manufacturing industry. This article examines asbestos in manufacturing: risk assessment and removal strategies.

Here, you can also read up on asbestos management and removal regulations, strategies for managing asbestos waste, and ways to identify asbestos-containing materials in manufacturing.

This article then considers the principles of asbestos risk assessment and management, how to perform an asbestos risk assessment in the manufacturing industry, asbestos risk control and removal strategies, and asbestos safety resources.

The Need for Regulation of Asbestos Removal

Australia has, over the years, placed various bans and restrictions to reduce the damaging impact of asbestos. The December 2003 complete ban on the mining, manufacturing, and use of asbestos also went a long way. However, you may still have to contend with legacy Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) found in domestic and commercial buildings.

You may even have asbestos products such as bonded asbestos cement sheeting where the bonded asbestos contains more than 20% actual asbestos content. Those likely to be at risk of being exposed to asbestos in the workplace include asbestos cement manufacturing workers, asbestos miners, plumbers, electricians, and mechanics.

Therefore, a national strategic plan and other guidelines, laws, and regulations are needed to manage and remove asbestos effectively and safely. Relevant laws, regulations, and strategic plans for managing and removing asbestos can help protect you and your community from asbestos exposure. You can also more effectively manage health risks from potential asbestos exposure.

National strategic plans

National strategic plans specifically for asbestos awareness, management, and removal usually aim to address asbestos-related issues in various communities. The plan can help you coordinate and focus your efforts, including eliminating asbestos-related diseases in Australia. In this case, you may use targeted measures to reduce exposure to asbestos fibres.

Such strategic plans also aim to improve asbestos awareness:

Public health laws for managing and removing asbestos

If you do not follow established laws and guidelines for removing asbestos-containing materials, you may be leaving yourself open to substantial penalties. This can include fines or imprisonment. You must take all necessary steps to minimise or prevent possible harm to public health.

Work health and safety laws (WHS)

WHS laws prioritise a safe work environment, focusing on eliminating or controlling the risks of hazards such as asbestos exposure. As much as is reasonably practicable, these occupational health and safety legal obligations include taking specified and required actions when needed.

WHS laws include the following:

  • Work Health and Safety Act of 2011 (WHS Act)
  • Work Health and Safety Regulations of 2011 (WHS Regulations)

Code of practice for asbestos removal

You can refer to compliance codes of practice for practical information on fulfilling workplace health and safety requirements. Together with WHS Regulations, Safe Work Australia Codes of Practice provide guidelines on identifying asbestos, asbestos management, and implementing control measures.

The codes include the following:

  • Codes of Practice – How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace
  • How to Safely Remove Asbestos Code of Practice (2011)

Environmental and transport laws 

These laws primarily aim to prevent environmental pollution. You must keep these laws in mind throughout the transport and disposal of asbestos.

Asbestos-containing Materials in Manufacturing

Even if ACMs in good condition may be relatively safe when left undisturbed and undamaged, it is still essential to identify ACMs. You can use the following ways to identify asbestos or know if a material contains asbestos: Hire a competent person to perform a full asbestos risk assessment of your business environment.

This can involve taking asbestos samples and testing for the presence of asbestos. Alternatively, you can get a licensed asbestos removalist to take samples of suspected manufactured or imported products that may contain asbestos.

They can simply send each product sample to a laboratory for testing. You may implement asbestos management controls if you suspect asbestos is present in the products.

Asbestos Risk Assessment and Management

Important risk assessment and management principles should be considered when it comes to asbestos in manufacturing and other industries. These principles apply to you as an employer or a person who controls and manages a workplace.

These principles include the following:

  • Take steps to identify possible asbestos-containing materials in your workplace.
  • Be sure to assess the risks of exposure to asbestos fibres. This assessment should be done for all stakeholders, including employees, clients, and neighbouring businesses.
  • Ensuring the implementation of control measures to minimise or eliminate asbestos exposure.
  • Conducting periodic reviews and monitoring of the control measures for continued effectiveness.
  • This includes all stakeholders, such as employees, in consultations for asbestos management plans and communications on risk controls.
  • It is worthwhile to consult competent and experienced asbestos removalists, disposal facility managers, and asbestos waste transporters throughout the process.

Risk Assessment in the Manufacturing Industry

A practical risk assessment explains the likelihood of asbestos fibres being released and inhaled. This then indicates the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres.

Factors to consider for asbestos risk assessments

The factors that you should consider when performing asbestos risk assessments include the friability and type of asbestos material, its current condition, and its disturbance potential.

Friability and type of asbestos material

Friable asbestos is one that you can easily crush by hand. It is, therefore, loosely contained. Note that bonded asbestos can become friable if it is fire-damaged.

Meanwhile, non-friable asbestos or bonded asbestos has asbestos fibres that are firmly bound in material such as concrete.

You need to know how friable a type of asbestos material is. This indicates the chances of the release of airborne asbestos into the air. For example, since asbestos cement has firmly bound fibres, you may expect it to be less likely to release asbestos fibres. However, a loosely bound sprayed coating is more likely to release asbestos fibres when disturbed.

You can naturally expect that a higher likelihood of asbestos fibre release results in a higher risk of exposure. You should also know that all disturbed, damaged, or deteriorated ACMs release asbestos fibres. Likewise, all asbestos carries a health risk until you dispose of it.

Current condition of ACMs

Non-friable ACMs that are currently in good condition and left undisturbed are less likely to release asbestos fibres into the air, which means that there is a lower risk of exposure. On the other hand, deteriorated or damaged ACMs are more likely to release asbestos fibres and pose a higher exposure risk.

Disturbance potential 

Here, you identify activities or conditions that may disrupt the bonding that keeps asbestos fibres in place. Here are some examples that can give you a better understanding of disturbance potential:

  • Forklifts that drive adjacent to asbestos cement sheet walls may cause accidental impacts.
  • Plumbers may make asbestos insulation vibrate when working on the other pipe ends without asbestos insulation.
  • The work of electricians wiring in ceiling spaces and other confined spaces that contain friable asbestos material.

Rating chances of airborne asbestos fibres

You can use the above factors – friability, current condition, and disturbance potential – to rate the chances of each identified ACM releasing asbestos fibres. Be sure to work with a group of people and agree on the rating.

Performing risk ranking

Knowing the exposure risk is essential to decide what control measures to implement. You can use international risk rating matrices to rank in extreme, high, medium, and low-risk categories.

Asbestos Risk Control and Removal Strategies

Proper asbestos risk management and removal strategies after identifying the presence of asbestos are essential to protect workplace health and safety.

Your next step after risk assessment is to initiate control measures. Control measures from the most to the least effective include the following:

  • Eliminate the risk through asbestos removal or substitution.
  • Isolate the risk or use engineering controls such as sealing, enclosing, or encapsulation. These are options for managing asbestos in place.
  • Implement administrative controls such as safe work procedures and HSR training.
  • Ensure the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); this may include disposable gloves, respirators, and coveralls.

Asbestos removal strategies of asbestos removalists

Note that you need to hire professional asbestos removalists to promptly eliminate high-risk ACMs in manufacturing premises. They may effectively combine the above controls to manage and control asbestos effectively. For example, they know how to properly enclose an asbestos cement wall in your warehouse to prevent impact on the ACM.

Alternatively, asbestos removalists may use encapsulation methods to help protect asbestos from mechanical impact or damage. This can extend the asbestos product's life until they can safely remove it. Likewise, they can use encapsulation to strengthen asbestos materials during the process of asbestos removal.

Administrative controls, such as using asbestos management plans, registers, emergency procedures, and personal protective equipment, play important roles in asbestos management, control, and removal.

For instance, having an up-to-date asbestos management plan for asbestos in the workplace and reviewing it can provide invaluable insight into when damaged asbestos has to be removed or repaired.

Asbestos Waste Management Strategies

  • Familiarise yourself with work health and safety regulations and relevant compliance and enforcement policies relating to asbestos waste management.
  • Only use licensed operators and licensed asbestos waste landfills or asbestos disposal facilities when removing and transporting asbestos waste.
  • Ensure that the transport and disposal of asbestos do not lead to the release of airborne asbestos fibres.
  • Asbestos waste needs to be correctly classified and tracked. This is especially true for hazardous waste. This helps regulators enforce applicable laws.

Managing Risks of Asbestos in the Workplace

As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you are responsible for managing workplace asbestos risks. The risks of asbestos that you must manage include the following:

  • Identifying asbestos and ACMs at the workplace,
  • Keeping records of identified asbestos in asbestos registers
  • Performing asbestos risk assessments.
  • Using control measures to eliminate or minimise risks of exposure to asbestos fibres
  • Reviewing control measures
  • Access to asbestos registers for health and safety representatives or relevant parties when needed.
  • Handing asbestos registers over to the next PCBU as you hand over workplace management or control.
  • Managing asbestos risks in manufacturing industries includes ensuring that building materials are not made of or do not contain asbestos.
  • In some states, you must provide health monitoring to workers who carry out asbestos-related work.

Requirements for Asbestos Removal

In NSW, you compulsorily need Class A asbestos removal licence holders if you wish to perform friable asbestos-related work. In addition, you can only invite a licensed asbestos assessor to conduct air monitoring and risk assessments if friable asbestos is present. On the other hand, only a Class A or Class B asbestos removal licence holder should remove non-friable asbestos of amounts greater than 10 square metres, equivalent to a fibro sheet.

Asbestos Safety Resources

Removalists Provide Asbestos Risk Assessment

This article has discussed risk assessment and removal strategies related to asbestos in manufacturing. The health risks of asbestos exposure are all too real today. This is enough reason for you to seek the services of licensed asbestos removal contractors. They can help with asbestos testing, identification, and control. They are also experienced in providing risk assessment and asbestos removal services.