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Asbestos. The mere mention of it has the power to send a shiver down any WHS professional’s spine. For decades, the mineral was used in the construction of houses, office buildings and barns, due to its flexibility, strength, resistance to fire and a whole host of other agreeable factors. Subsequently, asbestos was used everywhere – school roofs, home attics, ships, cement, and even in car brakes. It wasn’t until the tail-end of the 20th century that the world began to realise asbestos was a hugely dangerous substance, but a lot of damage had already been done. Asbestos was found to cause scarring of the lungs and a condition known as mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer.

Today, the use of asbestos is banned in Australia - but its harmful effects remain.
Today, the use of asbestos is banned in Australia – but its harmful effects remain.

Because of the perceived versatility of asbestos, Australia used the harmful mineral by the truckload. According to the Australian government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), some 1.5 million tons of the stuff were imported into the country between 1930 and 1983, and it was extensively mined for in the land Down Under, too. Few countries used more asbestos than we Australians, before it was effectively banned.

Asbestos still presents a very real danger to employees and the general public the length and breadth of the country.

Today, asbestos is all too often dismissed as yesterday’s problem, something that doesn’t affect us any longer. However, this way of thinking itself is outdated, as asbestos still presents a very real danger to employees and the general public the length and breadth of the country. Let’s look at why.

1. Asbestos still exists in buildings across Australia

We’ve already talked about the extensive use of asbestos in Australia across the 20th century. Therefore, a great number of houses, schools and tower blocks built before the mid-1980s were almost certain to contain at least some level of the stuff, with those built after 1990 less likely to be contaminated. Concerted efforts were made to remove asbestos from as many of Australia’s buildings as possible, but even so, it was nigh-on impossible to get rid of it all.

As such, the discovery of asbestos occurs with some regularity in Australia. Forgotten attics, neglected barns, and even some older schools are commonly found to be contaminated, with the ASEA stating that one-third of all Aussie buildings are thought to have been affected. Oftentimes, asbestos will lay undisturbed for years at a time, and is discovered only via accident or in the event of a natural disaster such as a cyclone or bushfire – then it becomes a big problem.

It wasn’t until 2003 that all forms of the mineral were completely banned in this country.

2. Asbestos exists across many different industries

Even though asbestos came under official regulation in the 1970s, it wasn’t until 2003 that all forms of the mineral were completely banned in this country. Of course, by then the damage had been largely done. Employees across a whole host of industries were affected, especially those working in construction, carpentry, plumbing and electrical engineering. Indeed, The Mesothelioma Centre found that those working in construction or carpentry are at the biggest risk of asbestos exposure. Harrowingly, one in 10 carpenters born before 1950 are expected to die of asbestos-related cancer, meaning that WHS professionals with proper asbestos training are an absolute must, and remain in strong demand.

3. It’s dangerously dismissed as an old problem

We’ve already mentioned how short-sighted it is to shrug off asbestos as a problem of the yesteryear, as if it’s smallpox. The truth, though, is that asbestos continues to affect people to this very day, and will long into the future. The Mesothelioma Centre states that a staggering 25,000 people will succumb to the condition over the next 40 years, with the disease toll actually rising over time. This shows that asbestos exposure, though perhaps not as widespread as it was in the past, continues to have an effect – especially when new cases of asbestos contamination are discovered almost by the day.

To find out more about AlertForce’s Asbestos Awareness Training, Assessment & Removal courses, be sure to get in touch with our expert team today.

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