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Asbestos is a serious concern in Australia, affecting the lives of many and creating havoc in the building and construction industry.

Staying on top of developments regarding this dangerous material is just one way to minimise your risk of exposure. An in-depth and evolving knowledge of asbestos is crucial to mitigate the hazards that may be lurking in your workplace.

Another consideration would be to undertake asbestos awareness training, to ensure you can identify and address any potential asbestos that may be present.

To ensure you are in the best possible position to protect the health and the safety of your colleagues and staff, here are just a few of the latest asbestos-related headlines from around Australia.

Australian hospitals tested for asbestos

A hospital is the place you go when recovering from an illness or injury. The last thing you would expect would be for the very building itself to pose a danger to your health and safety.

Unfortunately, recent testing has revealed many hospitals in Australia may contain asbestos products. Sydney’s Westmead hospital closed its service tunnels earlier this year after an untrained apprentice disturbed asbestos in the walls.

Now, only trained and supervised personnel are allowed entry into the tunnels, and only while wearing protective clothing and suitable asbestos-grade breathing masks.

Speaking to ABC News, Annabel Crouch, a former speech therapist at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital, explained that she had recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma – a disease directly related to asbestos exposure.

It is believed Ms Crouch contracted the cancer while working at the hospital, due to service tunnels being lined with asbestos materials.

“We went up and down the tunnel 10 times a day,” Ms Crouch explained. “And there would always be people working on it, the pipes, there’d be plumbers doing things {…} No-one thought there would be asbestos or any danger.”

This revelation is a serious concern for anyone who has worked in or on a hospital in Australia, particularly those built prior to the total asbestos ban in 2003. It is therefore important for individuals in all industries to stay aware and understand their risks. One way to do this is to complete asbestos training to help identify and monitor the hazards.

Home renovators the new wave of asbestos victims

As the health risks of asbestos was discovered, the victims contracting related diseases have come in waves. Starting with those working in asbestos mining and factories, the ill effects soon moved into the construction and manufacturing sectors.

The third wave appeared much later, when families and spouses of first and second wave workers also began being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other conditions. This was due to a lack of safety precautions meaning workers often carried dangerous asbestos fibres home on their clothing – where it was then inhaled by family members.

The latest wave of victims to come forward is also related to domestic exposure, but is not limited to the years before the total asbestos ban was put in place. Now, home renovators who are unaware of their property’s history are putting their own and their family’s lives at risk by undertaking DIY renovations and disturbing asbestos materials.

This is according to Asbestos Diseases Research Institute professor Nico van Zandwijk, who told the Daily Telegraph last month that “statistics are suggesting that an increasing number of mesothelioma victims were exposed to asbestos fibres in non-occupational settings such as home renovation and maintenance including women and children.”

Approximately one-third of Australian homes contain asbestos products, so it is important for homeowners to get their property assessed before starting any developments. While buildings constructed after 1990 are likely free of asbestos products, any home built before this time need to be checked.

Homeowners, renovators, tradies and contractors are all at risk when working on older buildings. This is why awareness and training is crucial. Any person considering DIY renovations should talk to a qualified professional before cutting, stripping or disturbing materials in the home.

“Factory of death” responsible for neighbours’ health concerns

The importance of correct asbestos containment and removal has been highlighted as the death toll in Melbourne’s Sunshine North continues to climb.

Reports from the Sunday Herald Sun suggest that more than 30 people have died and 15 fallen ill simply due to living near the Wunderlich factory, which created asbestos products prior to the nationwide ban.

The Health Department last month conducted a range of air quality tests around the area and found no evidence of asbestos fibres. However, the toll of past manufacturing work is hard to ignore.

Because of this, the Sunday Herald Sun commissioned asbestos experts to test the roof spaces of a number of houses near the factory and found a significant number contained invisible asbestos dust.

Peter Thomson, a resident whose home tested positive, was upset over the lack of information. Prior to these recent tests, homeowners were unaware of the danger lurking in their roof spaces.

“If it wasn’t for the Sunday Herald Sun this still would not have come out,” he said on October 18.

“There could be 2,000 or 3,000 homes sitting on a time bomb. It leaves a dirty taste in your mouth and makes you feel sick.”

While it may be too late to prevent the asbestos spreading from the abandoned factories, it is not too late to minimise exposure in your workplace. Correct asbestos removal techniques are crucial for protecting the health and safety of yourself, your colleagues and any neighbouring residents.

As the presence of asbestos in these homes demonstrates, precautions need to be taken even when properties are not directly exposed to asbestos products. If the wind were to blow in the wrong direction on the wrong day, any loose asbestos fibres can easily travel over long distances and contaminate many homes.

Any person who may be required to undertake asbestos removal needs to complete the relevant training. While official qualifications are not required for small amounts of non-friable materials, the training will ensure all proper precautions are in place no matter what.

For more information on safe asbestos removal or to get started with asbestos awareness training, get in touch with the AlertForce team today.

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