NSW Government’s Plan to Reduce Deaths in Construction

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The NSW government has a plan to address workplace deaths and accidents in the construction industy, pledging $80 billion to NSW infrastructure over the next 4 years.

As infrastructure construction amps up over the coming years, safety in the construction industry is a priority with  more than 400,000 people expected to be employed by the industry by 2022.

Between 2013-14 and 2015-16, 35 workers lost their lives on construction sites in the state, mostly due to falls from heights.

The state government has been working with more than 100 industry representatives to gain a better understanding of the industry and its safety needs. The feedback has given the government an idea of how to better support businesses and workers. The plan addresses issues such as asbestosis, management of musculoskeletal injuries and mental health of workers.

The plan will precede 4 sub-sector plans that address specifically the high rise buildings, housing, infrastrastructure and demolition sectors of the industry.

Source: http://content.safetyculture.com.au/news/index.php/07/plan-reduce-deaths-injuries-nsw-construction-workplaces-launched/#.W3qV2bglE1l

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.


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