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Asbestos Hazards in Australian Workplaces

One of the lesser known hazards of the workplace is asbestos exposure. When asbestos fibres become airborne, they can enter the body through the nose or mouth. Once inside the body, these fibres cause long-term scarring of the lungs or tumors to form in the linings of internal organs.

Onset of disease symptoms can take between 10 to 50 years. By then, many of these diseases are in an advanced stage and are difficult to treat.

Although the use of asbestos in the workplace was officially banned in Australia in 2003, asbestos was used in a variety of construction materials between 1945 and 1980. Buildings and homes built during this time most likely contain asbestos. Common asbestos-containing products include insulation, construction materials, concrete, paint and sealants, vehicle brake pads and other parts and even outdoor furniture.

That makes for a sweeping list of workplaces where exposure today is possible simply because something as mundane as an office renovation can lead to exposure. But some occupations are higher risk than others.

Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

The occupations at highest risk for asbestos exposure are those that work directly with any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). This includes construction workers, plumbers, demolitions workers, carpenters, auto mechanics and electricians. Mining and milling were high-risk occupations until the mining of asbestos in Australia ended in 1983.

However, most employers who work with ACMs are aware of the regulations governing asbestos, including the Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws that commenced in January 2012. The duty falls on employers and property owners to inform workers of any asbestos in the building as well as provide personal protective equipment.

In addition to people who work directly with asbestos, people who work in older buildings can be at risk. Most public buildings including schools were built using asbestos. Suspected ACMs should be reported immediately, especially if they are damaged.

Identifying the locations of all ACMs is the first step to reducing the risk of asbestos exposure.  To reduce and possible exposure to only professionals who are trained and licensed should handle or dispose of ACMs.

Bio: Michelle Y. Llamas is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She is committed to generating awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and providing information regarding breakthroughs in mesothelioma treatment.

Sources:

Safe Work Australia. (2011). How to manage and control asbestos in the workplace: Code of practice. Retrieved from http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/AboutSafeWorkAustralia/WhatWeDo/Publications/Documents/625/

How_to_Manage_and_Control_Asbestos_in_the_Workplace.pdf

Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). (2011). Asbestos related diseases. Retrieved from http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/your-health/asbestos-related-diseases

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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