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Although changes in construction regulations have ruled out the use of asbestos for some decades now, the hazardous material is still rife in old buildings around Australia.
A worrying issue is that many people – even supposedly professional, qualified workers – are not thinking enough about asbestos removal best practices. The health risks involved with poor asbestos management simply cannot be ignored, with the deadly mesothelioma strain of cancer a common result of asbestos exposure.
According to Asbestos.com, Australia has the second highest rate of asbestos-related mesothelioma deaths in the world, behind only the United Kingdom. Due to Australia’s extensive history of asbestos use in a range of industries, over 10,000 people have died from the disease in this country since the 1980s.
Many workers today still face asbestos exposure as part of their day-to-day work, meaning the threat remains at large. However, greater asbestos awareness over the years means there are now better measures in place to limit the effects of this occupational health and safety hazard.
What are some of the most important steps your business should be taking to manage asbestos in the workplace?
1. Take asbestos assessment training
One of the best ways to reduce the risks of asbestos exposure in your workplace is to ensure you have experts in your own team. By getting some of your staff to complete certified asbestos removal courses, you will have in-house specialists who have the know-how to deal with this OHS hazard.
AlertForce offers comprehensive, nationally recognised asbestos courses to get your staff up to speed with asbestos best practices. Your employees can benefit from a range of modules covering both friable and non-friable asbestos removal, in addition to asbestos assessment and supervision methods.
Effective asbestos management begins with the very people that keep your business running, so make a wise investment by signing up to these training courses.
2. Know the law
Having a good understanding of the national and state laws surrounding the use and removal of asbestos can give you the knowledge required to manage it safely.
For example, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 provides some very clear guidelines on the obligations employers hold with regards to asbestos handling. The regulations state that managers and anyone who has control over a workplace have the duty to control their employees’ exposure to airborne asbestos fibres.
Additionally, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 outlines some key prohibitions surrounding the practical handling of asbestos, covering areas such as tools and equipment, protective clothing and who is actually allowed to carry out removal work.
By having a firm handle on the rules and guidelines surround asbestos management, your workplace can ensure it is keeping its employees safe while operating within the boundaries of the law.
3. Keep an asbestos register
You should ensure that is applicable, you place of work has an up-to-date asbestos register in place.
Required by law for any building that was built before December 31 2003, or where the presence of asbestos has been identified, a register keeps track of where in the building asbestos is located and the nature of the risk pertaining to the individual building.
Keeping an accurate register means the general public as well as your own workers are aware of the asbestos risk of your workplace.
4. Make sure you know how to identify asbestos
When working with any building, you should make sure you are aware of the techniques and processes involved in identifying its asbestos.
According to Safe Work Australia’s Asbestos Code of Practice, a thorough asbestos assessment covers a range of bases. For a start, you should look at when the building itself was constructed. While asbestos bans in Australia formally commenced in the 1980s, the use of asbestos in construction was not completely abolished until December 2003.
Therefore, even buildings that were built near the turn of the millennium have the potential to carry an asbestos risk, so if you are unsure of its history, you should get it checked out.
You should also investigate factors such as which materials were used in construction and whether any refurbishments and redevelopments were carried out, and if so, when.
It can also be wise to speak to those who helped design the building and to people who have formerly worked there, as they can provide background information on its history.
5. Use the right tools, equipment and clothing
There are some tools and equipment that shouldn’t be used in any environment containing asbestos. For example, Safe Work Australia states that high-pressure water sprays and compressed air must not be used on asbestos.
Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must also be provided to anyone working with asbestos. This includes disposable coveralls, footwear and gloves, as it is generally safer to completely dispose of clothing after asbestos exposure rather than washing it.
Asbestos may still be a common workplace hazard in Australia, but with the right mindset and tactics in place to manage it, you can greatly enhance the safety of your workforce.
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