July 07 2015
Asbestos is a hazardous material that poses a risk to health by inhalation if the asbestos fibres become airborne and people are exposed to these airborne fibres.
Exposure to asbestos fibres is known to cause mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Asbestos-containing materials were used extensively in Australian buildings and structures, plant and equipment and in ships, trains and motor vehicles during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and some uses, including some friction materials and gaskets, were only discontinued on 31 December 2003.
Strong management and control of all in situ asbestos-containing materials (ACM) is essential.
The well-known adverse health consequences of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres can be prevented if precautions are taken and appropriate procedures are followed.
The risks posed by ACM depend on the nature and condition of the materials and the potential for exposure.
The main elements of managing the risks of ACM in workplaces are to:
- identify all ACM in the workplace, as far as practicable
- assess the risks associated with all ACM
- introduce control measures to prevent, as far as practicable, the generation of airborne asbestos fibres and any exposure to airborne asbestos fibres.
While many domestic premises contain asbestos-containing materials (ACM), they are unlikely to have a register of ACM. Precautions must be taken before work begins to identify the likelihood that ACM is present. While particular attention should be paid to buildings built prior to 1990, recycled materials used in buildings built after 1990 may contain asbestos.
Work at domestic premises that may involve exposure to ACM includes:
- demolition and renovation
- electrical maintenance or installation, including work on electrical meter boards
- maintenance or installation of walls, roofing, ceilings or flooring
- plumbing maintenance or installation.
If there is any known or suspected asbestos on the premises, the owner, occupier and/or resident must be informed. Unless marked, it is unlikely that ACM is readily identifiable by sight alone and samples are required to be tested for confirmation.
Where asbestos is present or assumed to be present, work must be done in accordance with the WA Code of Practice for the Management and Control of Asbestos. This Code details the mandatory methodology for dealing with and working on/around ACM, further it details the mandatory PPE that is to be worn when conducting such activities.
A license is required for any person removing or disposing of 10m2 of ACM. The Code also details the removal, safe packaging, transport and disposal of the product.
Using the hierarchy of control, the best way of managing safety with regards to Asbestos is to eliminate the hazard. It is recommended that where practicable, any ACM be removed from the site by a licenced contractor and replaced with a lesser hazardous material.
The benefits of this are threefold:
- The hazard is removed by a competent contractor, eliminating the exposure of the hazard to you and your workers,
- The hazard is removed from the premises, therefore eliminating the hazard to the occupant or your client,
- If industry was to implement this methodology across the board, the hazard would eventually be eliminated for future generations of plumbers (and other tradesmen).
The Code of Practice is available from the WorkSafe WA website, alternatively Safety Solutions WA can provide you with a copy. Should you have any further queries regarding the safe management of Asbestos, your legal requirements in dealing with this hazard, or any other OSH matter, please contact Safety Solutions WA.