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A school in the Northern Territory recently evacuated part of its grounds due to the risk of asbestos exposure after infrastructure works were completed. Another report described an illegal dumping of a large amount of asbestos sheets outside a school where a number of children catch the bus. Meanwhile, Kingston Council in Melbourne is investigating a large deposit of asbestos-laced soil that was left at a public park.

Above are the highlights of Australian asbestos reporting from two weeks at the end of March alone. These shocking stories are perhaps more frightening than alarming asbestos statistics, revealing the knowledge gap and the lack of care taken by the public when it comes to handling the deadly fibre.

Here at Alertforce we’re passionate about improving Australia’s asbestos knowledge, in order to reduce the prevalence of horror stories like these. With better training, workers will know the risks of dumping asbestos, better identify the fibre and be able to handle it if they do. To help you make a start, here’s our quick guide to identifying asbestos.

Since 2003 it’s been illegal to import or use any asbestos product in Australia.

Know the risk factors

The first step towards better identifying asbestos in the workplace is to know the most common risk factors. First, consider when was the property in question constructed? If it was built during the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s there’s a high chance that it contains asbestos, as the brown and blue fibres were widely used before their ban in the mid 1980s.

However, there’s still a chance that your home contains asbestos if it was built more than ten years ago, as white asbestos was only banned in 2003, and it’s likely that some tradespeople continued to use it after then. The takeaway here is to be on high alert if your home was built before 1990, and to be aware if it was built between 1990 and 2005.

Consider what was used to build your home. If there are concrete sheets, or corrugated concrete roofs in the structure, there’s a high likelihood that they contain asbestos.

Find and identify

Asbestos can be incredibly difficult to identify if you aren’t trained in its identification and removal. It can be spotted in a number of areas around residential buildings: in pipe lagging, boiler insulation, cement sheets, bitumen-based water proofing, vinyl floor tiles and a number of other products.

Older sheets of asbestos have a distinctive dimple pattern on them, while nails used to secure asbestos sheets often had flat, rather than pointed, tips. If there are aluminium joiners outside the building in question, these are also a dead giveaway that there’s asbestos within. Some sheets may even have ‘contains asbestos’ warnings printed on them.

Knowing the common warning signs is helpful for those at risk of asbestos exposure at work. However, for the safety of you and everyone around you, it’s essential that you receive asbestos removal training if you work in an at-risk profession such as plumbing or building.

No matter how hard you look, if you don’t have proper training you may not be able to identify asbestos.

Seek help if you’re unsure

When working in a building that you suspect contains asbestos, you are legally allowed to remove 10 sqm of bonded fibre if you dispose of it properly. However, it’s strongly recommended that if you’re unsure of best practice, always seek help.

To make sure you’re on the ball when it comes to identification and removal, enrol in a short asbestos removal course with one of NSW’s most trusted training providers – Alertforce. Our courses are all nationally certified and of the highest quality, perfectly suited to help you fight back against the terrible effects of asbestos in Australia.

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