Issues with asbestos continued to make the headlines in various regions across Australia last month. From an advance warning to Easter renovators to a scare at several Queensland drilling sites, asbestos news and management strategies continued to be an important issue for several parts of the country during March.

Asbestos removal and awareness training remains a top priority for many in Australia, but problems with the once-popular building material continue to persist. Here are just a few of the stories that happened last month. 

Water damage threatens ACT shops

Two businesses in the Ainslie Shops area of the Australian Capital Territory have been issued Prohibition Notices, after water damage to the building they were housed in led to an asbestos scare.

The ceiling above the two businesses contains loose-fill asbestos. After a local resident complained to WorkSafe, the inspector made a visit to the site and first noticed the water damage that was evident on the ceiling of the premises. 

According to ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe, the Prohibition Notices are a precautionary measure to protect the shop owners, residents and visitors frequenting the area. 

"If the cause of the water damage is not determined and fixed there is the potential for damage to the ceiling which could allows asbestos fibres to enter the first floor premises," Mr McCabe said in  a statement.

"Air monitoring testing has been carried out by a licensed asbestos assessor. I can report that both these and dust tests have all come back below normal background levels."

WorkSafe will continue to work with the building's owner as well as the businesses that have been affected to ensure the safety of the premises and people. Mr McCabe also stressed that other businesses located in the Ainslie Shops area were safe to continue operating as normal, as there was no further risk identified to the general public.

A warning for Easter renovators

Ahead of the Easter break coming up this month, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland have issued a reminder for anyone planning to take on a home renovation project during the long weekend.

According to Dr Simon Blackwood, the head of the organisation, typical Queensland homes built before 1990 were likely to have been made with materials containing asbestos. The organisation is urging any would-be DIY renovators to check with the Queensland government about their asbestos information service before undertaking any works to their homes.

Dr Blackwood also cited statistics from last year, which showed 61 per cent of renovators in New South Wales may have exposed themselves to asbestos. More worrying was the fact that just 12 per cent of these people reported using the necessary respiratory protection on a regular basis. 

The information contained within the Queensland government asbestos service includes short films, house plans and expert advice.

'Mr Fluffy' causes further trouble in Canberra

In further news from the ACT, the state government recently issued a recommendation for 1,050 homes to undergo a professional asbestos assessment. These homes were previously identified as having been exposed to Mr Fluffy in the 1970s, the specific type of 100 per cent loose fibre asbestos used by a home insulation contractor who operated in the area during that time. 

Despite these homes having been part of a $100 million removal program between 1988 and 1993, the government has notified owners that their houses may still have some remnants of the hazardous material in internal and external wall cavities, sub-floor spaces, cornices and other places.

So far, the government's recommendation states that affected home owners should have a professional asbestos inspection and this report should be shown to anyone working on the houses. However, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union is urging the government to take the recommendation further into official state legislation. 

The news follows on from a recent announcement that loose asbestos was found in a home in Pearce, which was investigated by ACT WorkSafe. The material was thought to have been released after a home renovation project. 

In another case of the past coming back to haunt the present, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) stressed that there was no threat of asbestos contamination after a fire broke out at a work site in Barangaroo. In the past, traces of asbestos had been found in the soil at the site, which forced work to stop for a period of time last year.

The Barangaroo site is currently being redeveloped to host a mix of businesses, hotels and parkland areas. A report released by the EPA in March last year indicated they had identified a "much greater asbestos contamination than was expected" in the soil at the southern zone of the work site. The report specified that any soil previously contaminated with the material was safe to re-use and re-work as long as it had been properly remediated and contained no fibrous asbestos.

While there were concerns raised in connection with last month's fire, the EPA has ruled out the re-emergence of any asbestos threats. 

Asbestos found at coal seam gas drilling sites

The company in charge of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Queensland stopped work at 12 of its sites after asbestos was identified in the drilling fluids workers were using. 

Several media outlets reported that Origin Energy had halted drilling operations in response to the scare. The root of the concern traced to a walnut-shell based product called Nutplug which is typically used to seal wells. The product was supplied by the Australian Mud Company (AMC).

The investigation into how many people may have been affected is still ongoing. 

If you would like to improve the level of asbestos training in your staff, contact the team at AlertForce today. 

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