Despite it now being more than ten years since the complete ban of asbestos products in Australia, this dangerous substance continues to make headlines across the country and around the world.

With new discoveries being made every week, asbestos awareness training remains a vital investment for many Australian businesses to help improve safety and mitigate the risks of asbestos discoveries in the workplace.

Australia has seen many asbestos-related news stories over the past month, the following are just a few:

Consumers warned against burning railway sleepers

As the winter months approach and temperatures begin to drop, consumers across Australia are being warned against buying disused railway sleepers for firewood.

In addition to the risk of herbicides, oils and grease being released as toxic gas when burned, the Firewood Association of Australia General Manager Alan McGreevy reveals there is a risk sleepers may contain fine asbestos particles – transferred from the brake linings of trains.

"[Prior to 1985] train brakes were made of asbestos and there is a potential that fibres from those brake linings could get trapped in cracks in the surface of sleepers," Mr McGreevy told ABC Australia on April 16.

When buying firewood, individuals can easily avoid railway sleepers by using these simple tips to help identify the wood: "They're reasonably easy to spot [because] they're square cut for a start, they're generally black on the outside due to the contaminants, and they smell a bit," explained Mr McGreevy.

Western Australia fights to improve asbestos victim laws

Members of parliament in Western Australia have acknowledged the state stands behind the rest of Australia in terms of protection for asbestos victims, yet a private members bill is struggling to survive, according to an April 14 article from WA Today.

The Asbestos Diseases Compensation Bill 2013 will award locals diagnosed with additional asbestos-related diseases the ability to seek further compensation, above what they may have already been given.

As the law currently stands, those who have already received damages for asbestosis cannot then claim further financial support for other conditions, such as mesothelioma.

"What this bill would seek to do is allow at a later stage they can actually go back and seek additional compensation," the bill's author, Upper House member Kate Doust, explained. 

This would bring Western Australia's legislation back in line with most other states and territories. However, Ms Doust fears the government will not support the bill, following a negative response from WA Attorney General Michael Mischin in February this year.

"While I acknowledge Hon. Kate Doust's efforts in introducing the bill, it regrettably, cannot be supported by government as the drafting is unsatisfactory in a variety of respects," Mr Mischin said.

Ms Doust is concerned with the government's response, particularly as the bill should not create any additional costs for the government.

"At the end of the day, WA people deserve a better outcome and legislation that provides better compensation and support," she expressed. "Why would WA be left behind the rest of the country?"

Asbestos scare as truck loses its load

Residents of Sydney's west were treated to an overnight asbestos scare on April 13 when a truck accidentally dumped two tonnes of building material in the middle of a street.

Firefighters were called in to wet down the waste to stop asbestos fibres becoming airborne, before officers wearing protective gear covered the mess with black plastic.

ABC Australia reported on the incident on April 14, explaining that official asbestos removal teams would then clear the mess the morning after the accident.

Surveillance may be required to deter illegal asbestos dumping

Residents and local members of parliament in Cessnock, New South Wales have called for closed-circuit cameras to be installed in dumping hot spots.

Multiple piles of deadly asbestos-filled materials have been found along a fire trail in the region, with sheets of rotting corrugated asbestos left exposed to the air and elements – posing a serious risk to any individuals in the area.

"This is a huge problem in the Lower Hunter; we urgently need an effective response to illegal dumping," Councillor James Ryan told The Newcastle Herald on April 22.

The Environment Protection Authority's (EPA) director of waste and resource recovery, Steve Beaman, explained that an independent inquiry was underway to discover the origins of the dumped material.

"It is absolutely disgusting that members of the public dump hazardous materials where it can put community members and the environment at serious risk of harm," he said.

"I can't stress how important it is for members of the public to notify the EPA as soon as they possibly can when they become aware of illegally dumped material, especially when it is hazardous."

Individuals and businesses that discover asbestos are urged to only use official channels to correctly dispose of the material. In particular, it is vital to contact a company or authority that has undertaken extensive and comprehensive asbestos removal training.

Lucinda Bulk Sugar Terminal undergoes asbestos removal

On April 23, Queensland Sugar Limited (QSL) announced plans to enact a $10 million refurbishment project in order to replace asbestos-contaminated roofs at the Lucinda Bulk Sugar Terminal.

Due to begin this week, the six-month project is not expected to impact on the health and safety of nearby residents or employees as the asbestos is bonded to the roofing sheets.

"It's not fibrous, it's not airborne, so we have the roofs removed by a specialist asbestos contractor, and the material is disposed of in special council-owned asbestos dumps,'' QSL operations general manager Damian Ziebarth explained to ABC Australia on April 23.

This project comes as part of a 10-year $80 million program to replace the roofs of all six bulk sugar terminals owned and managed by QSL across the state.

If you want to improve asbestos awareness and safety in your workplace, speak to the team at AlertForce today.

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