Queensland residents and businesses are still dealing with the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Ita, the category three storm that caused havoc across some areas of the state earlier this month.

Despite being downgraded from category five to a category three as it made its way across Australia, the cyclone still caused flooding, heavy rains and shortages of water and electricity in the most affected regions.

As the clean up and recovery process continues to take place, the state's attorney-general Jarrod Bleijie has issued a warning to residents to be aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure as they operate in flood-affected buildings.

"Cleaning up and rebuilding quickly is important when it's your home and business but you shouldn't put your life at risk in doing so," Mr Bleijie said in a statement released April 14.

"Houses and other buildings built before 1990 may contain asbestos materials, and residents are urged to be careful when cleaning up."

Whether or not your workplace has been affected by a weather event, asbestos removal can still pose a danger to employees if handled improperly. 

What are the risks to health?

While asbestos can lead to serious risks for human health and safety, living or working in a building that contains asbestos will not automatically expose people to these. As long as the asbestos is undamaged, the likelihood of developing diseases and conditions related to the hazardous material is low, although asbestos awareness is still important to manage the risks involved. 

Asbestos becomes most damaging to health when the fibres are made airborne, which means they have the potential to be inhaled into the lungs. While coughing and other natural reactions can eliminate some or most of these fibres from the body, those that remain can lead to serious problems.

As such, the people who are typically most at risk of asbestos exposure are those who carry out repairs, renovations, demolitions and other activities that could release contained asbestos fibres into the air. 

The more fibres inhaled and the more someone exposes himself or herself to the material, the more severe the potential consequences. The issue is even more complicated by the fact that many asbestos-related diseases develop over a period of years, so the effects of an initial bout of exposure may only be discovered later on. In some cases, the gap between exposure and diagnosis can take up to 50 years. 

Inhaling the asbestos fibres can lead to several serious diseases. One of these is asbestosis, which is a chronic lung disease that can result in respiratory impairment and interstitial fibrosis, the term for scar tissue that appears between alveoli in the lungs.

Asbestos can also cause mesothelioma, a cancer of the outer lung lining, or lung cancer.

How can asbestos be removed safely?

If you want to equip your workers with the knowledge and skills they need to be safe around asbestos, specialised asbestos removal courses and awareness training can provide the ideal solution. 

There are several ways an asbestos risk can be managed and contained in the workplace. For example, you can implement a new work, health and safety policy to ensure everyone is informed and up to date about the procedures surrounding the affected area or areas. You could also create new working practices to ensure only staff with the necessary training have the authority to operate at the affected site.

When it comes to asbestos removal, you have several strategies at your disposal. Providing the appropriate personal protective equipment is essential so any removalists or staff members in the area have as much physical protection between them and the material as possible. 

It's also crucial to keep any asbestos materials wet during the removal process, as this lessens the risk of stray fibres drifting off and becoming airborne. You should always take care not to break up the material, particularly in situations where sawing and drilling may be involved. 

One thing to avoid is the use of any high-pressured hoses or gurneys when cleaning asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos waste should also never be put into the general waste system at the premises, as it can only be disposed of properly at a official site licensed by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA). 

For more information on how asbestos can be safely removed, talk to the AlertForce team today. 

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