The federal government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) recently revealed that a ’third wave‘ of Australians are impacting on the numbers suffering from asbestos-related diseases.
The ‘first wave’ involved workers in the asbestos mines, with the ‘second wave’ those workers who used the many building products that contained asbestos over many decades.
The ‘third wave’ victims have suffered secondary exposure to asbestos in-situ, such as school, hospital or factory employees, with another major exposure group being home renovators.
The ASEA reports that 700 people die from mesothelioma every year in Australia and the “numbers are not reducing”.
Over a decade ago, James Hardie, a major manufacturer and distributor of products containing asbestos, agreed to set up a compensation fund for asbestosis and mesothelioma sufferers. With an unexpected and sustained increase in claims, the company’s actuaries have had to lift liabilities by 12 per cent, or $195 million.
A KPMG report for James Hardie revealed that mesothelioma claims alone for this year are 5 per cent above expectations, with most claimants coming from” third wave” exposures.
Even though asbestos mining ceased long ago and asbestos applications in any form have been formally banned since 2003, the past use remains.
Many buildings and structures incorporate products containing asbestos fibre – such as roof and wall sheeting, pipes, flues, switchboards, gaskets and fire doors.
It is important to always take precautions to avoid exposure to airborne asbestos fibres, which are released when asbestos products are broken or fractured. Testing all suspect material is recommended. A good starting point is for management to have a properly authorised person conduct a Division 5 Audit – generally a non-intrusive visual inspection of a workplace to identify all asbestos materials that are then recorded in a site-specific asbestos register.
The Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency (VAEA) was established to plan for and advise the government on removing asbestos in government buildings, including schools and hospitals.
For a valuable overview of this issue, visit www.asbestos.vic.gov.au, which is the collective advice from WorkSafe, the Environment Protection Authority and the Department of Health.
Article by Brian Boyd, ONSITE Editorial Committee