Canberra Builder Accused of Exposing Family to Asbestos

A builder in Canberra has been accused of exposing a family to asbestos, according to reports by the website. The builder is now the subject of an investigation by WorkSafe ACT which could lead to his prosecution.

The ACT government could also withdraw the business’ licence if they find that the company’s employees worked with asbestos without permission.

The incident has led ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe to call for the introduction of spot fines for builders who do not dispose of asbestos properly. McCabe is seeking a $5000 spot-fine to be issued to any guilty builders. Commissioner McCabe said the breaches to the Work Health and Safety Act could result in the case ending in court.

He went on to say, according to the article on

He said the seriousness of the breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act meant the case could end up in court.

LI-art-nar-asbestos-builder-20130612200402287857-300x0”Given the level of exposure to the family I think the public would demand prosecution if a breach of health and safety laws is proven in this case,” Mr McCabe said.

The new fines will be considered as part of the ACT government’s review of the Dangerous Substances Act, which is likely to be tabled in spring, with the new fine schedule to take effect from January 1.

The family whose home was contaminated says it remains out-of-pocket and shaken by the affair, which will see them require ongoing, annual medical check-ups for life-threatening illnesses.

Read more:

The incident occurred earlier this year when a young couple in Kambah hired the builder to renovate their bathroom but instead had to vacate their home when the builder’s staff used angle grinders to cut through asbestos sheeting in the house.

At the time of the renovations, the family was occupying the house and the wife cleaned the asbestos fibres from surfaces in the living area and kitchen, unaware that they were dangerous to her and the entire family. Luckily a neighbour alerted the family and called WorkSafe.

Mr McCabe confirmed that the company involved was being probed by WorkSafe’s serious incidents investigations team and if the builder is found to have breached the Work Health and Safety Act the consequences are likely to be severe.  As McCabe pointed out serious breaches of the act may carry large fines and possibly jail time for the company’s directors.

The post went on to state:

A spokesman for the ACT Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate said all work with asbestos had to undertaken by a licensed person with active building approval and an asbestos control plan, and the company had none of those at the time of the renovation.

The spokesperson said the investigation was ongoing and ”a decision on the status of the nominee is awaiting the outcome of further investigations and advice from WorkSafe ACT”.

Read more:

The builder declined to comment on the matter. The family has since hired another builder to renovate their bathroom. Sadly the family has lost about 120 personal items which were contaminated and had to be destroyed. They also lost out financially because the builder refused to refund the family’s deposit or provide them with compensation.


Asbestos Discovered during Queensland Operations

According to a post on the Workplace Safety website, yet another asbestos contamination has been discovered at not one but 2 Queensland based broadband network (NBN) work sites.


Photo source:

The following excerpt was taken from the post on and explains further:

At one site it was water blasted onto workers faces inside an underground telecommunications pit in Brisbane and at another site in Mackay asbestos dust was left unattended for five days.

Jarrod Bleijie, the state Attorney-General, said that he is concerned about the workers in the state not having the training or protection to safely deal with asbestos after the discoveries by the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland were made known.

The safety breaches with asbestos include:

– In March two workers were water blasted by asbestos in a pit in Carseldine

– In Mackay asbestos dust was left for five days after a concrete pipe was cut in April

– Asbestos was abandoned on a footpath and workers wore the incorrect safety masks

– In Banyo two workers used respirators incorrectly


Meanwhile Telstra, the company involved says they are facing clean-up costs of more than $50 million. They have also admitted that there may actually be around 1.5 million pits that still contain asbestos.

Everyone has expressed their shock and concern about the incidents of people being exposed to asbestos because of NBN rollouts, with the Labour government saying they were previously assured by the National Broadband Network (NBN) that the asbestos issue was under control.

Apparently there have been 30 reported asbestos incidents with Telstra ducts and pits since 1996 to date but most of these have occurred in the last few weeks and months.

What’s even more alarming is the fact that Telstra has 8 million cabling pits nationally and it is believed that 10-20 per cent may contain asbestos. About 60,000 pits involved with the rollout of the NBN are expected to contain asbestos.

The problem seems to have stemmed from the fact that James Hardie had built the pits many years ago. James Hardie became infamous after the company was disgraced because of their dependence on asbestos materials in the past and for causing the sickness and death of many people due to asbestos exposure.  Telstra has assured the government that they had the matter under control.

Politicians are still debating over the issue with newspapers reporting that workplace minister Bill Shorten accused the Opposition of playing politics in the midst of fears that the NBN contractors may have exposed the public to asbestos.Legislation to set up a new national asbestos agency has passed the lower house, watch this video which explains further:



Family Exposed to Asbestos during Renovations

Contractors need to ensure that they are not placing their workers and their clients at risk of asbestos exposure especially when engaging in renovation work on houses and buildings.

A recent incident which happened in The ACT has highlighted the need for caution when working on older buildings in particular because there is a chance that older building materials are still contained in the dwelling which may contain asbestos fibres. These fibres can become disturbed by construction work and be released into the air, to be inhaled by all in the house.

This is a particularly concerning matter when the asbestos fibres not only affect workers but customers too who may be living the house while renovation work is being completed.

This is exactly what happened to a couple and their 2 children who were alerted by neighbours that workers engaged in renovation construction work on their home were actually removing asbestos containing materials from the house and improperly storing it in front of their home.

This mishandling of a potentially deadly substance is something that needs to be urgently addressed across Oz, especially if we wish to reduce the high number of asbestos related deaths we experience in this country each year.

Read what happened according to this post on

worksafe-actA couple and their two young children aged 5 and 3 have had to leave their home because of the way the builder renovating their home allegedly mishandled asbestos materials.

WorkSafe ACT will be referring the builder involved to the Director of Public Prosecutions because workers have put the family at risk for illnesses related to asbestos.

The family left their house last month for more than three weeks after builders cut through asbestos sheeting in their bathroom with angle grinders, the entire house was contaminated.

The couple said that a neighbour approached them and said that they thought asbestos was being removed from and placed in front of their house.

They spoke to the builder who denied there were asbestos products so WorkSafe was called. They tested the sheets and confirmed that they were very dangerous.

The couple with their two children had been living in the house whilst renovations were conducted and toxic substances constantly had to be removed from the kitchen and living areas.

All of the members of the family will need to undergo annual tests for asbestos related illnesses.

Read more:

The company involved has since been dealt with by authorities but this ignorance on the part of builders cannot be ignored. Australia has the highest rate of Mesothelioma (most common asbestos induced disease) in the world and if incidents like this continue, we are not likely to combat this sneaky disease anytime soon.

People hiring contractors to work on their homes should ensure that their health and the health of their families are not being jeopardised in the interim.

The article on explains:

Mark McCabe, the WorkSafe ACT Commissioner, said that three prohibition notices, two improvement notices and two infringements had been issued to the company.

He said that if anyone is concerned about work being done in their home they should contact either ACT Planning and Land Authority or WorkSafe and they will investigate.



White Card News: National Asbestos Agency Launched

Good news for all Australians but especially those involved in renovation and demolition work, legislation has just been introduced to parliament for the establishment of an Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Minister Shorten, announced the legislation a few weeks ago.

According to the Minister, Australia’s history of widespread use of asbestos in the past in many industries such as the building industry has left a legacy of asbestos-containing material on our environment which is potentially deadly.

An article on explains more about the legislation and the Minister’s comments:

shorten_bill_080033_020_official_blue-150x150“It’s been almost a decade since asbestos was banned in this country and still, today, the dangers of this silent killer remain. Asbestos is the worst industrial menace that will go on killing for decades,” Mr Shorten said.

“The sad truth is that asbestos-related deaths are not expected to peak until 2020, and that tragically, we are expecting another 30-40,000 people to be diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases in the next 20 years. There are children not yet born who will die of asbestos related diseases. We owe it to future generations to come to grips with the blight of asbestos.”

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Bill 2013 will establish the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and will work with jurisdictions for a nationally consistent approach on asbestos eradication, handling and awareness, including environmental and public health issues.

Sadly Australia suffers from the world’s highest number of Mesothelioma infections, a deadly asbestos induced disease developed over a period of time due to asbestos exposure. That is why action is needed to ensure more Australians are not infected with this lethal sickness in the future.

The Minister went on highlighting some rather shocking and sad situations regarding asbestos in Oz:

“We have been reminded this week of the risks of asbestos to the community, with disturbing vision circulated of a truck illegally dumping asbestos material outside a preschool in Sydney. I am disgusted at the reckless, deliberate and callous behaviour displayed by the truck driver.”

“The Agency we are setting up will have amongst its first tasks the implementation of a plan to tackle illegal dumping and to encourage safe disposal across Australia.”

“The agency will work in tandem with all levels of government, unions, industry and support groups to implement a plan of action to eliminate asbestos exposure. This is the first time that we will have a coordinated approach to eradicating, and handling asbestos beyond our workplaces.”

The post goes on to explain the review advocates that fast action is needed to prevent further asbestos related infections due to the deadly asbestos fibres being released into the air. The new plan will have to incorporate issues such as the identification of asbestos containing materials in buildings, asbestos removal, handling and storage as well as increasing asbestos education and awareness.

The Australian Government created the Office of Asbestos Safety in August 2012 to begin working with jurisdictions and stakeholders to start the development of the new national strategic plan by 1 July this year. The government aims to have the new agency up and running as of 1 July 2013.

You can visit to provide feedback on the draft plan at the Office’s website or to find out more.


White Card Update: Home Renovation Boom May Increase Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos has long been a concern for building renovators and now the Ombudsman in Queensland has expressed concern about the problem. The Ombudsman has suggested to the State government that they deal with asbestos related problems by setting up a special department devoted to tackling the issue.

An increase in asbestos related diseases is expected to coincide with a boom in home renovations in the state of Queensland. Perhaps the most concerning part about asbestos is that the diseases it causes are incurable and the main one Mesothelioma is expected to peak in upcoming years.

Workers in the construction industry are particularly vulnerable to asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer especially those involved in renovation work on old buildings or rebuilds on older sites where asbestos could be lying dormant. When disturbed by renovation work these fibres are released into the air to be inhaled or ingested by workers or anyone who enters the site. There is now a concern that the general public, not experienced construction workers may be exposed to life threatening asbestos fibres, without knowing the proper precautions to take to protect themselves.

The report also noted that as home renovations increase in the near future it is likely that cases of mesothelioma from non-occupational exposure from home renovations are also expected.

A report has been presented in parliament which detailed the asbestos threat of buildings constructed before 1990. Although people are aware of asbestos and its danger, they are not sure about how to handle the situation if they discover asbestos while renovating and there is no coordination to facilitate uniformity in dealing with the substance.

A special department would help assist the public with the problem by getting the word out and developing uniform procedures for dealing with the discovery of asbestos.

Read this post from that explains further:

asbestosThe Ombudsman in Queensland recently recommended that a new department be set up by the State government to deal with the problems that are related to asbestos.

This call is on the back of an anticipated increase in asbestos related diseases because of the boom in the states home renovations.

A report that was presented in State Parliament yesterday that buildings that were constructed prior to 1990 in Queensland may actually contain asbestos but that there is a lack of understanding about the best way to deal with it and no central coordination.

It takes between 10 and 40 years for asbestos related diseases to develop and in 2010 asbestos related diseases were responsible for 640 deaths in Australia.

The report said that the incidents of mesothelioma are anticipated to peak between 2013 and 2021.



“Stop Asbestos Use” – World Health Organisation

According to an article on, the World Health Organisation together with the International Agency for Research on Cancer has issued a joint statement to express their concern about the cancer-causing ability of asbestos in its many forms. The organisations have stressed the need to eliminate asbestos use and reduce the prevalence of the substance in the environment (for example in old buildings). The article quotes the organisations as stating thatstopping the use of all forms of asbestos is the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases”, – it seems rather obvious but implementing a safe strategy to do this is more tricky.

The statement was issued as controversy surfaced about the conflicts relating to asbestos use in Russia. A scary but true fact also stated in the article is that Australia has one of the worst cases of asbestos prevalence in the environment as compared to other countries.

The use of asbestos has been banned in the country since the 1980s. However, as many as two or three structures built between World War II and 1983 still contain asbestos.  Oz has one of the highest (if not the highest) numbers of Mesothelioma infections in the world. In addition to other forms of cancers and disease, Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure over time and is the cancer of the pleura and may only occur 20 to 40 years after the exposure occurs. This disease grows and spreads quickly before the symptoms appear which makes early diagnosis and treatments harder.  The average survival time after diagnosis is only 6-18 months and takes only a very small amount of exposure to trigger.

Read what the post on had to say:


In the joint statement, WHO and IARC also confirmed the accuracy of the data and statements of the scientific results published in the British Journal of Cancer, which estimated the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality. The study found that all types of asbestos fibres kill “at least twice as many people through lung cancer than through mesothelioma, except for crocidolite – a form of asbestos found in South Africa, Bolivia and Australia.

The study also stated that Australia is one of the countries having the heaviest burden of asbestos cancer.

According to The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), there have been at least 4,700 deaths from mesothelioma in the country since records began in the 1980s.  It is estimated that more than 25,000 Australians will die from asbestos-related diseases in the next 40 years.

“The typical lag of 20 to 40 years between exposure and the onset of symptoms of disease. This can make detection, prevention and risk management for asbestos related health risk very difficult. It is estimated that the peak of the epidemic of asbestos-related disease in Australia will not occur until the 2020s,” said NHMRC in its website.

“The extremely widespread use of asbestos in construction in Australia last century means that exposure to it is also widespread. The weathering and ageing of asbestos-containing materials and renovation of buildings containing asbestos products may continue to release asbestos fragments for many years.”


Help for Those Affected by floods and fires

According to an article on the website ,WorkCover NSW is reminding the community to take extreme care during the clean-up and renovation of properties following floods and fires to avoid the potential exposure to asbestos.

WorkCover has joined forces with other government agencies to assist people affected by the flooding to get back on their feet with minimal disruption to services for NSW businesses and individuals.

Additional resources have been allocated by WorkCover to help residents, businesses, workers and other organisations to protect people’s health and safety when cleaning up in bushfire and flooding affected areas.

The post goes on to list a number of issues to take into consideration during the clean-up:

If you are cleaning up after a flood or fire you should consider the following.


Check that an electricity clearance has been given before attempting to use it.

NSW Fair Trading has issued a warning to flood victims about solar panels.


Identify any likely asbestos containing materials or dangerous chemicals.

This website has additional detailed health and safety information and publications on high risk areas such as asbestos and electrical safety.

Assess the what work needs to be done

Work out the order of the work to be done so that new risks are not introduced. For example:

think about how you will get access to the areas where the work is to be done, or the possibility of creating instability from removing things in the wrong order

consider what could go wrong during the clean up and repair work

work out what tools and equipment will be needed to do the work safely

check the correct equipment is available and is in good working order

check that the people required to operate the equipment have the right skills and competencies and ensure supervision of less skilled workers is available

check that people allocated to perform work are not fatigued.


Another issue that people need to consider according to the article is first aid. It is vital that the appropriate first aid facilities are in place and people have clean drinking water and facilities to maintain hand hygiene and use the toilet. If there is an injury, there should be access to medical treatment.

Personal protective equipment is also important to protect the body and workers should have the necessary PPE for the jobs they are undertaking. These PPE must be correctly worn, workers should be educated on this.

WorkCover has also placed particular attention on counselling services. If there are any in place staff should be encouraged to use it and WorkCover will continue to offer advice and provide extra information so people who carry out work are fully aware of the safety requirements during recovery, repair or rebuilding operations.

Workers that are injured by the floods or fires and cannot get medical attention immediately can work together with WorkCover to meet their requirements so that their claims and compensation payouts are not affected.

WorkCover has also agreed to assist businesses that are financially affected by these disasters and are not able to pay their premiums to the Worker’s Compensation Scheme. This help can include waiving late payment fees, reinstating statutory instalments, and offering extended payments arrangements if needed.


UK Site left workers exposed to Asbestos due to Poor Planning

A UK construction site carelessly left its workers exposed to asbestos fibres because of a lack of planning, as ruled by the court. The Swansea site was the source of a demolition and refurbishment project which should have determined beforehand whether asbestos was present on the site because of the prevalence of asbestos fibres on older renovation sites. The company in charge were also guilty of putting an untrained and unqualified staff member in charge of the operation. Australian contractors can learn a lesson from the incident about proper planning and the need for trained supervisors to be put in charge on sites especially supervisors trained to handle the hazards present, such as asbestos.

Read this post on which explains what happens and the court’s ruling:

270x180_1357889585_asbestos-danger-signThe client had two asbestos management surveys for the site, which, although later deemed to be inadequate, identified the presence of asbestos material and highlighted other areas, such as the ceiling voids, which were presumed to contain asbestos.

Despite this, work was allowed to begin even though Oaktree had been advised by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) that a separate ‘refurbishment and demolition survey’ was also required before any activity started.

During the demolition works an asbestos insulation board (AIB) covering a steel column was damaged, and a Wall Colmonoy employee was told to tape plastic bags around it. Work continued in the building for several months with the AIB debris left lying on the floor until an unannounced visit was carried out by an HSE inspector.

A subsequent HSE investigation found that Wall Colmonoy failed to appoint a competent construction, design and management (CDM) co-ordinator and principal contractor to plan and manage the construction work, and ignored advice from its own health and safety manager to notify HSE of the demolition phase of the project, as is required by law.


The good news is that the unions of Australia are leading the fight against asbestos and have successful secured compensation pay-outs for thousands of workers and their families. The unions have recently called for a National Asbestos Authority who can oversee asbestos related issues in the nation. But there is still a long way to go if we are to see zero cases of asbestos related diseases in Australia.

Demolition and renovation work has to be done properly with adequate planning and the appropriately trained and experienced staff in charge. A full risk assessment must be conducted on every work site prior to work beginning.

The post went on to state:

“Had a refurbishment and demolition survey been undertaken, and had a licensed asbestos contractor been used to removal all asbestos materials prior to the work starting, then the risk would have been eliminated. Instead this inadequate response left workers exposed to asbestos fibres, which can cause potentially fatal lung disease. The health and safety of workers must not be left to chance.”


Workers involved in renovation work should look out for asbestos in the following situations:

  • Within a house or a building site, asbestos is most commonly found in asbestos cement sheeting, also known as ‘fibro’.
  • Asbestos cement sheeting can be found in a flat form in internal and external walls and ceilings. This is why renovators and domestic construction workers often come across this harmful substance when breaking down old buildings or renovating them.
  • A corrugated form of asbestos cement sheeting, also known as ‘super six’ or ‘super eight’, is commonly found on roofs, as fences and sometimes as external wall cladding.
  • Asbestos can also be found in vinyl sheeting and tiles, external gutters, pipes and vents, backing to electrical switchboards in a black product known as zelemite, insulations to heater banks, air conditioning ducting and pipes,  gaskets to pipes and pipe joins, certain paints, brake pads and clutch pads to vehicles, mastics and glues behind wall tiles and vinyl, waterproofing in windows, roof tiles and woven textile seals to old ovens, grillers and kitchen appliances.
  • Asbestos fibres can also be found in hessian carpet underlay recycled from the hessian bags that used to transport asbestos fibres from the mines.


Lifelong Consequences of Asbestos on Construction Workers

Few contaminants present such a long extended risk as asbestos does meaning that the effects of asbestos exposure can affect a person long after they have been exposed.

Workers engaged in renovation and rebuilding construction work are at risk of inhaling, ingesting or absorbing deadly asbestos fibres which although toxic to the human body, were used in the past to make building materials more durable and longer lasting.

Significant exposure to any type of asbestos will increase the risk of developing serious, life threatening illnesses such as lung cancer, mesothelioma and non-malignant lung and pleural disorders, including asbestosis, pleural plaques, pleural thickening, and pleural effusions.

Chronic exposure to asbestos may increase the risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and non-malignant lung and pleural disorders.

Most of the cases of asbestos related diseases in Oz are associated with occupational exposure. Workers in the construction industry are some of the most at risk because of the use of asbestos in building materials prior to its banning a few decades ago.

However there may still be some sites where asbestos containing building materials are lying dormant and when damaged during renovations or rebuilding these asbestos fibres are released into the air to enter the lungs of workers or anyone in the area.

Asbestos has now been banned from further use, however it was expansively used in the construction and composition of fire doors due to its excellent fire resistant properties. Caution should always be used when cutting into or working with old fire doors in buildings as these may be constructed of asbestos containing material.If the asbestos containing materials are in good condition it can remain in place but should be labelled to alert people to its presence and the hazard presented.

Diseases from asbestos exposure usually take a long time to develop but it is not worth risking it. Workers who are both smokers and exposed to asbestos are even more at risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers do.

Often the worst part about exposure to asbestos is that it only reveals itself years later. The time between diagnosis of mesothelioma (the most common asbestos caused disease which is also lethal) and the time of initial occupational exposure to asbestos has been up to 3 decades.

When asbestos fibres are released into the air and inhaled, most fibres are expelled, but some become lodged in the lungs and remain there throughout life to affect the person later in life. Fibres can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation in the lungs which then affects breathing and causes disease.

People are more likely to experience asbestos-related disorders when they are exposed to high concentrations of asbestos or are exposed for longer periods of time which is why identifying and removing asbestos from construction sites prior to work beginning is so important to protect workers safety.

Exposure to asbestos can increase the likelihood of lung cancer, mesothelioma, and non-malignant lung conditions such as asbestosis for which there is no cure.


Construction Hazards: Danger of Unqualified Workers Handling Asbestos

Asbestos has been a major issue in Australia for a number of years, especially because we have recorded some of the highest numbers of asbestos related diseases such as Mesothelioma in the world here.

When unqualified or inexperienced workers attempt to remove asbestos or are exposed to building materials that contain asbestos, they can present a risk to others and themselves. They do this by allowing the hazardous asbestos fibres to enter and contaminate the air, causing it to be inhaled by people and cause a health problem later on.

One of the biggest issues surrounding asbestos in the construction industry is sprayed or friable asbestos which was previously used in building materials until the 1970s. Construction workers and tradespeople may become exposed to high concentrations of asbestos fibres during renovations and repairs to older buildings. If they have not received the appropriate training, they should not attempt to work with or move this material. The environment and work methods of these occupations are more difficult to control than fixed workplaces. However, most tradespeople are trained in the proper handling of materials that contain asbestos.

Even workers who have not received the appropriate general construction safety training may present a risk because asbestos containing material may be disturbed during renovations which can be released into the atmosphere to be inhaled or digested and affect other workers as well. This is why all workers must undergo their White Card, general construction safety training and only qualified workers should be tasked with its removal.

Numerous risks also exist for workers in the construction industry who are not informed before work begins that asbestos may be present. Previously workers in these industries were exposed to 100 – 1,000 times more asbestos than today’s workers are, thankfully now strict standards limit workers’ exposure. The ban of most asbestos has minimised the risks of exposure for construction workers but during renovations and rebuilds the risk still exists.

Employers must warn workers in advance if the site they are working on may contain asbestos materials. If the asbestos fibres stay enclosed or tightly bound in a product, health risks are dramatically reduced. But when these fibres are disturbed and released they can be deadly over time.

Asbestos poses health risks only when fibres are present in the air you breathe. How exposure to asbestos can affect you depends on the amount of asbestos fibres in the air, how long your exposure lasts, how often you were exposed, the size of the asbestos fibres inhaled, amount of time since your first exposure and the type of asbestos fibre inhaled.

Over time asbestos that you were previously exposed to may cause a terminal illness. When inhaled in significant quantities asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and cancer of the larynx.

Asbestosis is when scarring of the lungs occurs and makes breathing difficult.  Mesothelioma, another common asbestos related disease is an otherwise rare cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity.  Lung cancer, cancer of the larynx and ovarian cancer can also result over time.

Those workers who are smokers are particularly at risk if smoking is combined with asbestos inhalation because it contributes to lung cancer.