Managing Asbestos-related Risks

No matter the size of your project, it’s critical that you have a thorough understanding of the materials you’re dealing with and the potential risks that may be involved when dealing with certain substances. Not only is this important for the health and safety of the workers, it also plays a key role in helping you comply with relevant laws and regulations.

While there are many hazardous materials used in Australia’s construction industry, none is as common or as potentially harmful as asbestos. With this in mind, it goes without saying that you’ll want to have a 360 degree perspective of what asbestos is and the health risks it poses. That’s where Site Environmental and Remediation Services (SERS) comes in. As Australia’s leading experts in asbestos testing, surveying, management and monitoring, we have extensive experience in dealing with asbestos and would like to use this article as an opportunity to share some of our insights on the material.

Read on to find out what asbestos actually is, why it’s so commonly found in Australia and who you should contact if you’re concerned about asbestos.


Understanding Asbestos

‘Asbestos’ is the name given to a family of six naturally occurring silicate mineral fibres. These fibres fall into two groups:

  • Serpentine, which includes chrysotile.
  • Amphibole, which includes amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, actinolite and tremolite.

Flexible, durable, chemically inert, affordable and resistant to heat and electricity, asbestos once seemed to be the perfect industrial material and was used extensively throughout Australia across a range of different sectors. Indeed, up until the mid-1980s, Australia had the highest rate of asbestos use in the world. This legacy lives on, with experts estimating that about 1 in 3 Australian homes still contain asbestos to this day.

To satisfy the swelling demand for asbestos, a number of companies began mining for the minerals (primarily chrysotile and crocidolite) in Australia and did so right up until late 1984. In addition, about 1.5 million tonnes of asbestos was brought into Australia from overseas between 1930 and 1983, according to figures reported by the government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

The country’s widespread use of asbestos would turn out to be a major issue. As we now know, asbestos poses some significant health risks and is a major contributor to a range of serious health conditions. In light of these dangers, the use, importation or manufacture of asbestos was finally made illegal in Australia on 31 December 2003.

If you suspect that your home or workplace may contain asbestos, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us for a comprehensive asbestos inspection.


How is Asbestos Harmful?

Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) can be considered either friable or non-friable.

  • Non-friable asbestos is essentially asbestos material that cannot be crumbled or reduced to powder by hand pressure alone. Cement is a common example of non-friable asbestos.
  • Friable asbestos describes any asbestos that can be crushed or turned into dust by hand. As you might imagine, friable asbestos is more liable than its non-friable counterpart to become airborne and spread.

Both types of the above ACMs can potentially be dangerous. The risks are particularly pronounced when carrying out building, demolition or maintenance work on buildings containing ACMs. Damaged and weathered ACMs may also increase risk exposure.

Extended exposure to asbestos fibres is associated with many types of lung disease, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural plaques. Hundreds of Australians continue to die every year due to health conditions associated with asbestos. The environment, too, is vulnerable to asbestos contamination as fibres are liable to become airborne and infect the surrounding areas.


Does My Home Contain Asbestos?

As touched on earlier in this article, experts believe that about one third of all houses in Australia contain ACMs. Without conducting an asbestos survey, it’s impossible to say with total certainty whether your house contains asbestos, but if your home was constructed prior to the mid-1980s there’s a very high chance that it was built using at least some ACMs. If your home was built after this period (from about the 1990s onward), it is unlikely to contain ACMs.

ACMs can be found in many parts of your home, including:

  • Gutters
  • Fencing
  • Carport
  • Vinyl sheet flooring
  • Artificial brick cladding
  • Textured paint
  • Flexible building boards
  • Ceiling insulation products
  • Flue pipes

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list; at its high point, asbestos had more than 3,000 applications, and checking every individual part of the house probably isn’t feasible for most homeowners. It’s also worth bearing in mind that asbestos is odourless, tasteless and indistinguishable from benign materials by sight alone. As such, if you’re concerned about the possible presence of asbestos in your home, you’ll need to get in touch with a professional asbestos testing service such as SERS to verify.


How Do I Deal With Asbestos in the Event of a Natural Disaster?

From floods to bushfires and everything in between, there’s no denying that Australia is prone to more than its fair share of natural disasters. Not only can these events cause extensive direct damage to properties, they can also result in the release of massive amounts of asbestos fibres.

The good news is that the government has some well thought out procedures in place to help manage and contain asbestos in such a scenario. In the event of an emergency, it’s vital that you abide by the directions provided by your local disaster recovery agency in order to reduce the health and environmental impact of loose asbestos fibres.

Establish in 2008, SERS is made up of a team of dedicated specialists with technical expertise covering just about every aspect of environmental asbestos management. Whether you’re carrying out minor renovations on an older home or are concerned about levels of airborne asbestos in your workplace, we have a variety of solutions to meet your needs. Get in touch with the team today and find out how we can help you with you all your asbestos related concerns.

Similar Articles

Need an asbestos report and inspection?
Read more
Places you’re likely to find Asbestos in Australia
Read more