The Workplace Health and Safety Authority Queensland has reminded all builders to check temporary power boards for asbestos. Using and reusing temporary power boards on poles on construction sites is a regular practice however it can expose workers to asbestos fibres.
According to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, asbestos containing materials (also known as ACM) are commonly used as an electrical insulator on meter boards and panels. They are also used as bases to busbars, spark arresters and flash guards. However the older switchboards have a greater chance of containing asbestos.
The work safety authority also warned builders that temporary power boards imported or made before 2 January 2004 may contain asbestos and builders needs to be aware of the risks in order to control them.
WorkSafe has also warned that timber metre boxes which were installed before 1990 were also commonly lined with asbestos cement sheeting. The authority have urged those in the building industry to check their temporary power boards and also dispose safely of any power boards containing asbestos.
No licence is required to remove asbestos from temporary power boards because the quantity is less than 250kg however it must still be disposed of properly and in accordance with the “How to Safely Remove Asbestos Code of Practice 2011”.
This excerpt from the work safe authority’s website explains:
Asbestos containing materials (ACM) were commonly used as an electrical insulator on meter boards and panels in general, and as bases to the busbars, spark arresters and flash guards. The older the switchboard, the more chance there is that it contains asbestos. Generally speaking, if temporary power boards were made or imported before 1 January 2004 they may contain asbestos.
Timber meter boxes installed prior to 1990 were also commonly lined with asbestos-cement sheeting (fibro). Asbestos contaminated dust and debris from the various asbestos components can also be present within the cabinets.
Older switchboards were manufactured from asbestos/resin or asbestos coal tar pitch composite. These asbestos products had brand names such as Zelemite, Lebah, Ausbestos, and Miscolite. These usually have a smooth finish on the surfaces which are dark brown to black in colour and also have a strong tar or bituminous smell to them. Unsealed holes on these surfaces often reveal the presence of whitish fibres protruding from the material. Sometimes the brand names were stamped onto the rear of the boards and panels, but the absence of such labels does not mean asbestos is not present.
The risk comes in when the asbestos in these temporary boards is disturbed for example by drilling into the asbestos containing components like electrical contractors would when setting up the power board. This may cause the asbestos fibres to become airborne and anyone on the site can inadvertently inhale these deadly fibres, risking their short and long term health.
That is why WorkSafe has encouraged builders to check their temporary power boards and safely dispose of any power boards with ACM.
When removing the asbestos, the code of practice dictates that any asbestos containing material be double wrapped/ bagged with a minimum 200 micrometre thickness polythene sheeting/bags. Builders must also label the wrapping with the words “Abestos Waste” clearly visible. The asbestos waste must be transported to an approved hazardous waste facility.