Asbestos Awareness Week

Construction workers are not the only ones at risk of contracting an asbestos related disease. According to WorkCover NSW people undertaking DIY tasks at home and being exposed to asbestos because of old building materials that may have been used in the construction of their homes. Asbestos may have been left dormant in a home or dwelling but may be disturbed by renovations or DIY work.

Asbestos is formed in fibre bundles and as it is further processed or disturbed the fibre bundles become progressively finer and more hazardous to health. The small fibres are the most dangerous and this is why the fibres released during renovations or revamps of buildings are extremely hazardous. They are invisible to the naked eye but when inhaled penetrate the deepest part of the lungs causing significant, permanent damage.

This video by WorkCover NSW on Youtube highlights the danger of exposing your family to these deadly fibres during renovation work.

In order to avoid significant health risks, its best to identify the presence of asbestos beforehand and develop a plan of how you are going to deal with it. Home improvers should call in a professional to remove the asbestos and not attempt to do so alone.

 

White Card Update: Asbestos Fear on Canberra Site

Asbestos reared its ugly head again on an inner city construction site in Canberra according to Work Safe ACT. The contamination has led to asbestos handling concerns because of the nature of the building site which is the site of a hotel redevelopment. Work on the site was shut down temporarily but has since resumed after being given the go ahead to do so by Work Safe ACT.

There has been allegations that those in charge of the site did not ensure its safe removal and disposal which resulted in workers refusal to enter the site for fear of jeopardising their own health. In addition workers were not provided with the proper PPE to be worn in the presence of asbestos contaminated materials, neither were they decontaminated appropriately once finishing work. The employer has since addressed these issues which led Work Safe ACT to clear the site to reopen.

Some of the problematic issues identified were inappropriate supervision and lack of wash-down facilities on site which both have consequences for workers exposed to asbestos.

This post on the Abc.net.au website has more information:

“Everybody who’s been walking around that site’s been in a dangerous position. There’s been demolition on the site while workers have been removing asbestos in the basement,” he said.

It’s a very high traffic area. There’s a lot of people walking past that site. You’ve got to be concerned that they haven’t been controlling the asbestos on the site not only for the workers but for the public.”

Mr Hall said there were a number of concerns on many levels.

“Also we have the direct threat that there could be something go wrong with the demolition process and not only kill workers on the site but more importantly there is no or very little protection for the public,” he said.

“There’s meant to be protections put around the site to minimise or prevent parts of the building falling and crushing people in the walkways or around the building when they’re demolishing it. We don’t see any evidence of that.

“So there’s some fundamental things gone wrong.”

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-27/asbestos-fears-at-canberra-building-site/4282806/?site=canberra

Sites where renovation work is being undertaken are the biggest risk to workers in terms of asbestos contamination. This is because in the past many building materials were made with asbestos to make them more durable. During renovation these asbestos containing materials become disturbed, releasing harmful asbestos fibres.

All work sites that contain asbestos material should be labelled and workers warned in advance of its presence however this is obviously not possible if the asbestos has not yet been identified. A risk assessment needs to be done before work even starts on older building to guard against this occurrence particularly inspecting old fire doors and workers must be equipped with the necessary PPE in order to prevent them from inhaling the dangerous asbestos fibres.

If fire doors containing asbestos are identified on a renovation or refurbishment site,:

1. It should be presumed that the door contains asbestos and the door should be marked.

2. Look for the plate or label on the doors spine and examine it as the core material will be detailed on the spine.

3. Assess whether a door has an asbestos core by sampling in addition to reading the spine.  This may be done by temporarily removing a number of the door-hinge screws and look for the core material within the screws’ threading or obtain a laboratory sample of the core material from threads.

Asbestos fire doors must be included in asbestos registers and be labelled with a warning label to alert persons to the hazard to prevent the costly and inconvenient shut down of the site and possibly even a fine for jeopardising the health and safety of workers on site.

 

Federal Government must Eliminate Asbestos by 2030

(Image source : http://www.actu.org.au/Images/Dynamic/attachments/7727/ACTU%20Asbestos%20Report%20Final-Auspoll.pdf )

Auspoll, a survey recently commissioned by the ACTU has revealed that most Australians want the government to implement measures to have asbestos completely removed from all homes and public buildings by 2030.

Auspoll, as the survey was named, indicated that the majority of Australians (around two thirds) are still concerned about the effects of asbestos and the health risks it poses, regardless of its nation-wide ban a decade ago.

Last month the national inquiry into the removal of asbestos report was released. According to the report, government should aim to have asbestos completely removed from public and commercial buildings within the next 18 years. The inquiry also suggests the establishment of an audit into the presence of asbestos in residential buildings erected prior to 1987.

According to statistics around 500 Australians die each year from Mesothelioma, which is why citizens remain so concerned about the presence of asbestos in houses and buildings. According to ACTU president,Ged Kearney the poll, consisting of 1022 people showed ‘deep public concern’ about theissue, hence the 2030 target.

Asbestos has been used in thousands of materials and products throughout Australia for decades and has historically been used in places that were likely to experience intense exposure to the elements, which would degrade and deteriorate the product.So asbestos was used to give the product strength and longevity.  As the material deteriorates asbestos fibres are released into the air, which can have extremely harmful effects on the health of the human beings who inhale it, especially over time.

Although asbestos was banned, there are a number of buildings and homes that are still laced with asbestos through asbestos containing building materials which is now deteriorating and posing a potential threat. With Australia’s high rate of asbestos consumption, members of the public are understandably concerned.

It is thought that over one million homes have asbestos containing material, that’s almost a third of every domestic dwelling built prior to 1982, as well as hospitals, offices and schools. It is affecting the entire nation.

The majority of people who participated in the poll agreed that asbestos remains a huge health risk in Australia and even more indicated that the presence of the deadly substance would affect their decision to buy a home or not.

According to the poll, around 85% of the public back the recommendation for a national audit to be conducted which would identify remnant asbestos across Oz and about 90% advocated a national program for its removal.

Another recommendation made by the poll participants was for property sellers to have to provide certification that a property is asbestos free before selling it and even admitted their willingness to pay more for a property if the asbestos was removed by the previous owner.

A national asbestos summit is to be held in Sydney from the 4th of September to discuss how to handle the problem of asbestos. The unions will use the summit to discuss their plans for the removal of asbestos.

To read more about the ACTU Poll, visit http://www.actu.org.au/Images/Dynamic/attachments/7727/ACTU%20Asbestos%20Report%20Final-Auspoll.pdf

 

 

White Card Update: Imported Material Tainted with Asbestos

The Construction Union is concerned about the incident involving asbestos being found in structures imported from Indonesia. The union has warned its members about the incident and issued an alert to educate workers.

Strangely the importation of asbestos products was banned in Australia almost a decade ago, so how this material could have slipped through the cracks is still unknown. The union is particularly concerned about the safety of electricians who may be exposed.

The asbestos was only discovered after a fire in one of the switch boards cause the asbestos sheeting to break, revealing the dangerous asbestos fibres within. 

WorkplaceOHS.com reported on the case:

The CFMEU has advised its members that asbestos was found in pre-assembled structures imported from Indonesia for installation at local building sites.

The alert was issued after the union learnt that the Bechtel Construction Pty Ltd site on Curtis Island near Gladstone, Queensland, had imported sheds built from converted shipping containers.

They were assembled in Indonesia and supplied by the international company METITO Pty Ltd to house the Motor Control Centres for the Sewage Treatment Plant.

CFMEU QLD/NT safety officer Andrew Ramsay said tests had confirmed the internal linings of the sheds consisted of Asbestos Cement Sheeting/Tiles on the walls, floors and ceilings.

‘As we are all aware the importation of asbestos products has been banned through the Customs Act in Australia since 31 December 2003,’ he said.

‘The asbestos in these sheds came to light after a fire in one of the switch boards caused the sheeting to be broken and exposed the fibres to the workers involved.’

‘The Union is concerned that many electricians may also have been exposed during fit-out of these sheds before the alarm was raised.’

Source: http://www.workplaceohs.com.au/hazards/hazardous-substancesdangerous-goods/asbestos-news-tainted-supplies-from-overseas-plus-more

The report goes on to report on the latest Mesothelioma figures in Oz which are among the highest in the world. It is expected that up to 18,000 more Australians will die from mesothelioma by 2020. Mesothelioma is the cancer of the pleura. 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. A very small exposure to asbestos can be enough to trigger the cancer. The danger of this disease is that there may be a lag time of 20 to 40 years after asbestos exposure before mesothelioma results.

The report goes on to cite the following statistics:

Mesothelioma report reveals diagnosis and death rates

Meanwhile, Safe Work Australia has published a statistical report containing data on the number of mesothelioma sufferers diagnosed between 1982 and 2008, as well as the number of deaths due to mesothelioma between 1997 and 2007.

The key findings are summarised below:

New cases diagnosed

 •In 2008 there were 661 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed in Australia.

The number of new cases decreased from a previous peak of 652 new cases in 2003 to 591 new cases in 2006: initially suggesting a decreasing trend. However, the number of diagnoses reported in 2007 reached a new peak of 668 cases. This increase between 2006 and 2007 was mainly due to the increase in diagnoses for men (from 487 to 561 new cases respectively).

 •In 2008, the age-standardised incidence rate of new cases of mesothelioma was 2.9 per 100 000 population.

This rate has increased over time, from 1.2 cases in 1982 to a peak of 3.2 in 2003. In 2008, the highest age-specific incidence rate of new cases occurred among men aged 85 years and over: 48 cases per 100 000 population aged 85 years and over.

Deaths due to mesothelioma

•In 2007 there were 551 deaths attributed to mesothelioma.

Data on the number of deaths due to mesothelioma are available for the years 1997 to 2007. Reflecting the increase in incidence of new cases diagnosed, the overall number of deaths resulting from mesothelioma generally increased over the period between 1997 and 2007: reaching a maximum of 551 deaths in 2007.

 •In 2007, the age-standardised rate of death due to mesothelioma was 2.4 deaths per 100 000 population.

The overall age-standardised rate has remained relatively stable over the 10 years for which data are available. Over the period the standardised rate has ranged between a minimum of 2.1 deaths per 100 000 population in 1999 and a maximum of 2.7 in 2001.’

Source: http://www.workplaceohs.com.au/hazards/hazardous-substancesdangerous-goods/asbestos-news-tainted-supplies-from-overseas-plus-more

 Posted by Steven Asnicar

 

White Card Online News Update: Dangers of Inhaling Asbestos Fibres in Construction

Danger of Asbestos

The danger of asbestos is often heightened by its inhalation. While renovating old buildings or working with old doors or materials that contained asbestos there is the chance that workers will be exposed to dust that potentially contains asbestos fibres.

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.

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.

All workplaces that contain asbestos material should be labelled and workers warned in advance of its presence, however this is not always possible if the asbestos has not yet been identified. A risk assessment needs to be done before work even starts on older building to guard against this occurrence, particularly inspecting old fire doors.

If it occurs that a fire door must be worked on in a renovation or construction site,  there are few principles that need to be remembered:

1. It must be presumed that the door contains asbestos. Make a note of the suspected door in the register.

2. Look for the plate or label on the doors spine and examine it as the core material will be detailed on the spine and will therefore either confirm or deny the presence of asbestos in its makeup.

3. Assess whether a door has an asbestos core by sampling in addition to reading the spine.  This may be done by temporarily removing a number of the door-hinge screws and look for the core material within the screws’ threading or obtain a laboratory sample of the core material from threads.

Asbestos fire doors must be included in asbestos registers and be labelled with a warning label to alert persons to the hazard.  Many sites have been shut down causing a lot of stress and inconvenience because this was not done.  

If asbestos containing material is identified in a workplace, the responsible person must ensure the associated risks are assessed in consultation with workers and/or their health and safety representatives.  This applies to all asbestos containing materials.

The main purpose of the risk assessment is to enable informed decisions to be made about control measures, induction and training, air monitoring and health surveillance requirements.

Risk assessments need to be done by competent persons who have been trained to do so.  Decisions about control measures to protect workers will depend on the assessed risks to health.

During the risk assessment consider the condition of the ACMs  such as whether they are friable or bonded and stable, and whether they are prone to damage or deterioration. Also consider the likelihood of exposure and if the nature or location of any work to be carried out is likely to disturb the asbestos containing materials.

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.

Labels must be presented on all identified asbestos materials as well as warning signs and a register listing all asbestos containing material on the site.

Asbestos fibre exposure must be minimised by the development of a Safe Work Practice. This is a plan to deal with working around the asbestos containing material. For a task involving asbestos doors this may include: working on plastic sheeting, dampening down the work area with water spray, wearing respiratory protection, monitoring the work area and decontaminating both the work area and the equipment used for example.

There are other types of inorganic dusts like coal or silica that cause disease when inhaled into the lung. What makes asbestos fibres so risky is their size. They are so tiny, they become airborne very easily and when inhaled, are able to find their way into the smallest airways and air sacs of the lung where the critical transfer of oxygen into the blood takes place. There they can do extensive damage. One of the effects of inhaled asbestos fibres is to irritate and inflame the pleura of the lung causing the disease known at pleural disease. An even worse effect caused is lung cancer, especially if the worker is a smoker in addition to inhaling the asbestos. Another disease caused is Asbestosis which is fibrosis of the lungs due to asbestos exposure. An even more frightening disease caused by asbestos inhalation is Mesothelioma or cancer of the pleura, the lining of the lung. The scary part about this disease is that according to reports even miners wives contracted this disease after coming into contact with their husbands contaminated work overalls, which is a testament to its severity.  

Posted by Steven Asnicar

 

 

White card Online News Update: Asbestos Causes Shutdowns

The incident this month that saw Rio Tintos Holcim Quarry shutdown following an asbestos contamination discovery has once again opened the wounds of asbestos poisoning in Oz.

While construction and mining sites are the most vulnerable, even schools have been found with the harmful material as of late.

The most alarming fact is that Australia has the highest death rate from mesothelioma in the world, and the death toll continues to rise. A startling estimate that up to 18,000 more Australians will die from mesothelioma by 2020 highlights the need for the action plan to be implemented as soon as possible. Contractors and employers undertaking construction on old sites need to be more aware of the presence of asbestos and undertake the necessary tests prior to work beginning on the site

But why exactly is asbestos so dangerous to site safety that it would warrant the shutting down of the site? This can be answered by examining the consequences of asbestos exposure and where it is found.

Asbestos has been used in thousands of materials and products throughout Australia for decades and have historically been used in places that were likely to experience intense exposure to the elements, friction etc. which would degrade and deteriorate the product, so asbestos was used to give the product strength and longevity.  

Within a house or a building, 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.

Some of the diseases caused by asbestos poisoning are: lung cancer, mesothelioma, pleural disease, asbestosis to name a few. 

Smokers who are exposed to asbestos have a particularly large risk of getting lung cancer caused by inhaling the asbestos fibres. 

Mesothelioma is another type of cancer that could occur as a result of asbestos exposure. It is 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. A very small exposure to asbestos can be enough to trigger the cancer, however only a small percentage of people exposed to asbestos develop mesothelioma.

Pleural disease is another dreaded disease associated with asbestos. This is when the outer lining of the lung, called the plura becomes irritated and inflamed. This outer lining then stiffens and thickens and can become filled with liquid, which can hamper normal breathing and restrict oxygen intake.

Asbestosis is when lungs become scarred causing airways to become inflamed and scarred, restricting the flow of oxygen to the lungs and into the blood. The lungs become stiff and inelastic, making breathing more difficult. Symptoms include tightness in the chest, dry cough, and in the later stages, a bluish tinge to the skin caused by lack of oxygen. Asbestosis is usually seen in former asbestos miners, asbestos manufacturing workers and insulation workers. The scariest part about this disease is that it can take up to 10 years for symptoms to show up, which makes diagnosing harder.

The good news is that the unions of Australia are leading the fight against asbestos and have successfully 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.

Posted by Steven Asnicar