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The history of asbestos in Australia is such that you may still need to take special care to avoid possible asbestos exposure. Although the use of asbestos in new products is banned in Australia, specific industrial sites may have asbestos-containing materials present.

You will also learn why asbestos is common in industrial zones and how to deal with it. You can also learn more about the types of asbestos products and industries with the most significant asbestos exposure risks.

This post considers the health risks of asbestos exposure, regulations on asbestos removal, and getting help from asbestos removalists.

What is Asbestos?

The term “Asbestos” refers to a selection of naturally occurring silicate materials that are fibrous in nature. They are also durable and have high resistance to heat.

Types of Asbestos Products

Asbestos products can be friable or non-friable. It would help if you were always careful when handling asbestos of any type in your industrial property.

Friable asbestos products

Friable asbestos products can be easily crumbled into asbestos dust using your hand. They are dry and can contain high amounts of asbestos. In addition, it can quickly release asbestos fibres into the air. As such, it is dangerous to disturb asbestos fibres.

Examples of friable asbestos products include boiler insulation, sprayed insulation, and pipe lagging.

Non-friable asbestos products

Non-friable asbestos cement products are called ‘asbestos cement’ and ‘AC sheeting.’

Non-friable asbestos or bonded asbestos products are less likely to release asbestos fibres. This is because they are rigid and cannot be crumbled by hand. They typically have a bonding compound and a small amount of asbestos.

However, you should note that they may become friable if damaged or poorly weathered. Remember to implement safety precautions and a work safety culture if you work with disturbed asbestos. Some examples of non-friable asbestos products include asbestos cement sheets, vinyl floor tiles, and bitumen-based waterproofing.

Historical Industrial Use of Asbestos Products

Friable asbestos products were used in industrial settings in the late 1800’s. This type of asbestos product has popular applications as fireproofing, soundproofing, and asbestos insulation.

Using asbestos-containing materials in the building and construction industry was quite popular in the mid to late 1970s. This continued up till the late 1980s. Meanwhile, the installation of asbestos cement products such as water pipes continued even up into the 1990s.

Furthermore, it is only recently that the use of asbestos in brake linings, pads, and clutch plates became phased out. Here are some ways asbestos has been used in previous times:

  • Asbestos roofs or roofing
  • Asbestos cement sheets
  • Floor tiles
  • Building materials
  • Insulation
  • Electrical fittings
  • Clutch and brake lining

Why Asbestos is Common in Industrial Sites

Asbestos is common in industrial sites because it has a wide versatility in terms of usage. It is used not only as building materials but also in textiles, flooring, and insulation materials. It also has electrical, thermal, and acoustic uses.

Asbestos has durable and heat-resistant fibres. This is a significant reason for its use as a common building material. The asbestos cement manufacturing industry was the foremost consumer of asbestiform minerals.

Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure in Industrial Settings

Many deaths occur every year in Australia due to asbestos-related diseases. In the past, There was little awareness of the need to manage and control asbestos in the workplace. Asbestos workers were directly exposed to asbestos fibres. Their families also got indirectly exposed to fibres on the clothing of workers.

Meanwhile, if your industrial facility was built or renovated before the 1990s, there’s a chance it contains asbestos products. However, the asbestos fibres of building materials, such as asbestos cement sheeting (found in walls and roofs), are only harmful if released into the air and inhaled.

In other words, tightly bound asbestos fibres are less likely to cause health problems. In addition, the various types of asbestos have carcinogenic health effects. This is why you should be careful not to disturb asbestos-containing materials when renovating. It would be best to avoid drilling, cutting, or sawing them.

Asbestos fibres may get damaged, or the fibres from disturbed asbestos may become airborne. After that, those working with asbestos may inhale the airborne particles. Such particles then get trapped in the lungs. Over time, this can lead to the likelihood of asbestos-related diseases.

Examples of asbestos-related diseases that may arise from inhaling asbestos fibres include the following:

  • Asbestosis
  • Malignant mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer
  • Pleural disorders

Industries prone to asbestos exposure

In the past, the risks of asbestos exposure were highest in the following industries:

  • Asbestos mining and manufacture
  • Power Industries
  • Railway carriage construction
  • Office and school building construction
  • Industrial building construction
  • Shipbuilding
  • Building trades, including carpenters and plumbers
  • Roofing, demolition, and construction contractors
  • Asbestos removalists

Getting help after asbestos exposure

Exposure to asbestos in small amounts does not generally lead to the development of asbestos disease. Getting proper support, care, and social assistance is essential if there are asbestos health safety concerns at your workplace. However, you can address your concerns about your risk with the following:

  • Your GP or doctor
  • Support groups or organisations

What to Do if a Material Contains Asbestos

You can follow a four-step risk management process when dealing with asbestos in industrial sites.

  • First, you need to be aware of all asbestos-containing materials. This step involves identifying asbestos hazards.
  • Second, you should properly assess the risk. It is best to invite licensed asbestos assessors and removalists for this.
  • Next, you can take steps to control the risk.
  • Finally, you can review risk controls.

Note that fines may be issued to you if you do not follow asbestos-safe work procedures. For example, you need to avoid using high-pressure water on asbestos roofs. Request an assessment of asbestos-containing products if you purchase a building constructed before 1990.

Identifying asbestos

It is generally difficult to identify asbestos products by merely looking at them. However, if the product is likely to contain asbestos (such as building materials installed before 1990), you should take safety precautions.

It would be best to have a microscope to confirm that a product is asbestos-free. You need a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited laboratory to correctly test and identify asbestos materials.

Regulations on asbestos removal

You must meet occupational safety and health regulation requirements to remove asbestos safely. One such regulation specifies that you need licensed asbestos removalists to safely remove large amounts of asbestos-containing materials.

Furthermore, you must follow Environment Protection Authority (EPA) regulations for proper transport and disposal of asbestos waste. The EPA has a publication for safely handling asbestos transport and disposal.

There are codes of practice for safely managing asbestos. This includes the workplace code of practice for managing asbestos and another one for removing asbestos in workplaces.

Some specific regulations to follow regarding asbestos removal, as well as the transport and disposal of asbestos, include the following:

  • You need to perform adequate air monitoring when removing asbestos.
  • You should get a licensed asbestos removalist to perform clean-up work if you burn asbestos-containing materials on your property.
  • Likewise, air monitoring may be needed when cleaning up after a fire.
  • You can only dump asbestos in a licensed landfill or waste site.
  • People significantly exposed to asbestos record their details in the National Asbestos Exposure Register.

Employer obligations on asbestos safety

Employers have a responsibility to provide the following for their employees who may work with or around asbestos products:

  • Health and safety resources to help them understand the risks of asbestos and safely manage it.
  • Employers must first consult with health and safety representatives if they are directly or are likely to be affected by asbestos health and safety issues.
  • Employers must provide asbestos awareness and safety training for employees likely to encounter workplace asbestos.
  • Asbestos registers should be easily accessible.
  • Employees who face a risk of asbestos exposure need to have personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Workplace asbestos management plans should contain control measures for airborne asbestos fibres and decontamination procedures.
  • Employers are responsible for training workplace contractors on the company’s measures for managing the risk of asbestos exposure.
  • A workplace should have safety committees, and the person who controls the workplace or a representative is a part of the committee.
  • You must always follow the occupational health and safety act and regulations when removing and disposing of asbestos products.
  • Always engage asbestos professionals for clearance inspections.

Resources of Information on Asbestos

Some government and private agencies provide health and safety resources regarding asbestos. This includes information on naturally occurring asbestos, health monitoring, and asbestos-related diseases.

  • Your local council will also have guidelines on removing or disposing of asbestos.
  • Also, check with the local office of WorkSafe to get licensed asbestos removalists and information about asbestos in the workplace.
  • The National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) has information on local accredited laboratories for asbestos identification.

Get Help from Asbestos Removalists

You have now read up on why asbestos is common in industrial sites and how to deal with it. You also know more about types of asbestos products and their health risks.

Licensed asbestos removalists can help out with issues of asbestos in industrial buildings. This includes helping with asbestos identification, removal, disposal, emergency planning, project management, and control measures.