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Another month has passed in Australia, bringing more asbestos headlines into local and international spotlights. Understanding the prevalence of asbestos materials around the world is an important step towards addressing this hazard in workplaces across the country.

With asbestos-related news never far from the front page, it is easy to see how many businesses and employees could benefit from asbestos awareness and removal training. By undertaking this competency, individuals can increase their ability to identify and prevent relevant risks to their health and safety in the workplace.

Australia saw many asbestos headlines in the news over the past month. The following are just a few:

Parents reassured school campsite is safe

A recent asbestos discovery at a popular school camping site has caused anxiety and worry among parents in the ACT, but Parks and Conservation Service head Brett McNamara has reassured the public that the contamination is not a danger to health and safety.

The education directorate head of infrastructure, Rodney Bray, joined Mr McNamara at a hearing on June 23, as reported by The Canberra Times. Mr Bray explained that small pieces – “generally the size of your thumbnail ” – of asbestos cement sheeting had been discovered at six sites in Birrigai.

Mr McNamara explained that because the pieces had been discovered on top of the soil, it was possible that they had been washed there in recent rains. Qualified personnel had already picked up all visible material, he explained, and further removal work would not be required.

“I know only too well what horrible stuff this [is] and there’s no way that we’d risk anyone’s health out there,” he said. “I’m confident that […] it’s safe.”

Tests have shown that the material is bonded asbestos cement, which is generally safe if not handled, broken or crushed. Mr Bray believes that extensive removal work, including digging up layers of soil and taking it to a disposal site, would be “prohibitively expensive” and would not be required as long as visible pieces were taken care of.

“Unless a child was to pick it up and rub in their hands and breathe it or ingest it, it’s very low-risk material,” he concluded.

However, parents with children attending camps in the area are encouraged to educate their kids on the risks of handling asbestos materials.

Queensland asbestos scare after school fire

Extensive air monitoring and asbestos removal came into effect at a Queensland school on Sunday June 22 after a fire damaged a building that contained the dangerous material.

Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus were able to bring the fire under control within an hour, containing the incident to a single classroom and verandah.

Air monitoring conducted on Monday morning found the rest of the school was safe to occupy, so classes went ahead as usual. Those scheduled in the damaged building relocated to the school hall, an Education Department spokeswoman told the Brisbane Times.

“Electricity has been reconnected to the school and fencing has been erected around the damaged building,” she said.

The fire at Woodridge North State School is believed to have been deliberately lit, according to The Courier Mail.

Asbestos authority calls for demolition of Mr Fluffy homes

The head of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Peter Tighe, has called for the government to demolish those houses affected by the Mr Fluffy asbestos contamination in the ACT.

Speaking to ABC News channel 7.30 ACT on June 20, Mr Tighe explained that demolition is the only way to eliminate the potential health risks. He described current asbestos management plans as “band-aid solutions”.

Around 1,000 homes had loose asbestos insulation installed in the late 1960s and 70s. A federal government program launched in 1988 attempted to remove this material from all the properties, but recent tests have revealed many homes still contain the dangerous fibres.

Families currently living in the affected homes are being urged to invest in asbestos assessments, with some discovering their property is no longer safe to occupy. One Canberra mother explained to ABC that they do not have the resources to demolish their home, but as it is no longer a liveable environment it needs to come down.

“This house has to be knocked down, it can’t be lived in,” she said. “There is no remediation for this house, and as best I know, that’s the same as every single house affected by Mr Fluffy.”

The demolition of these homes will take extensive investment, as each property needs to undertake asbestos removal measures conducted by a qualified business or team. In an effort to support families through the demolition and renovation stages, the government has announced a scheme to waive asbestos disposal fees.

Environment Minister Simon Corbell explained that by removing the associated costs of disposal, families could save between $4000 and $10,000 when knocking down and rebuilding their homes.

However, Mr Corbell reminded homeowners that they would still be responsible for demolition and haulage charges, including the engagement of a licensed asbestos assessor or removal workers to undertake the work.

The Fluffy Owners and Residents’ Action Group founder Brianna Heseltine responded positively to this announcement, but believes more needs to be done.

”This is the first announcement of financial assistance for Mr Fluffy home owners since its 18 February letter. Our collective sigh of relief is probably audible all around Canberra,” she told The Canberra Times.

”I am also particularly pleased to see the ACT government allocate funds to facilitate a long-term solution to the Mr Fluffy issue, as opposed to costly medium-term band-aids.”

Incentives to encourage correct asbestos disposal in NSW

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has announced a scheme to improve the affordability of asbestos disposal in an effort to reduce illegal dumping.

Officially launched on July 1, the Householders’ Asbestos Disposal Scheme is currently being trialled in 24 councils across NSW with the hope that the program will be extended in the future.

During the trial, residents will able to dispose of small amounts of wrapped bonded asbestos for $102 per tonne, rather than the normal charge of $290 per tonne. This figure comes from a $50 incentive offered to renovators who correctly wrap and dispose of asbestos products, as well as the waiving of the waste levy on bonded asbestos.

“Illegal dumping is costly to clean up and potentially harmful to human health and the environment,” Environment minister Rob Stokes explained.

“This trial will assess how effective a more affordable and accessible asbestos disposal scheme will be in reducing instances of illegally dumped asbestos waste,” he added.

Improving asbestos awareness in your workplace

As these stories demonstrate, asbestos is a prevalent issue across Australia. Fibres and bonded material can be discovered at any time in buildings built or renovated prior to the total ban of asbestos products in 2003.

Because of this, it is important for all employers and building managers to ensure their staff hold the relevant skills and knowledge to easily identify and address asbestos contamination. If you would like more information on asbestos awareness training, contact the AlertForce team today.

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