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.