Asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, are affecting an increasing number of younger Australians, according to a recent report from the Sydney Morning Herald.

A new wave of victims have come forward, demonstrating asbestos-related illnesses are no longer “old man’s diseases”. The stories told by this group promote not just protection against direct exposure, but also policies to minimise effects on family members and reduce environmental exposures.

Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan, from Southern Cross University, told the Sydney Morning Herald that, despite laws banning the use of asbestos in Australia, the rate of diagnosis of asbestos-related diseases was still growing. In particular, young women who were exposed to their father’s work-clothes have emerged as a large proportion of asbestos disease victims.

“Younger women represent an increasing percentage of all diagnoses,” Professor van der Zwan said in a June 20 article. “These changes in rates and profile can be attributed to non-workplace exposure.”

Due to the long incubation time of mesothelioma and other related diseases, many of these young women are now being diagnosed with conditions contracted when they were children. Individuals who were exposed to asbestos in the home during the 1970s are just starting the develop symptoms and require extensive medical treatment.

“The impact of an asbestos-related diagnosis on the lives of younger men and women exposed during home renovations and repairs, are part of the “third wave” of exposure to asbestos,” Professor van der Zwan explained.

These third-wave victims should be taken as an indicator of the importance of asbestos removal and awareness training. Not only can competencies in this field protect employees from direct exposure, but can also ensure workers do not unintentionally carry fibres home to their families.

Asbestos in Australia

Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma deaths in the world. With more than 10,000 locals succumbing to the disease over the past three decades, global support network, The Mesothelioma Center, forecasts an additional 25,000 people will die from this disease within the next 40 years.

Additionally, experts agree that asbestos-related deaths in Australia have not yet reached their peak, with the death-toll expected to continue to increase between now and 2021.

This growing rate of asbestos-related disease in Australia is influenced by the country’s extensive history with the dangerous material. Between 1950 and 1970, Australia had one of the highest rates of per-capita uses of asbestos in the world.

Although staggered bans of different forms of asbestos have resulting in a nation-wide exclusion of the material, continued use of the product means many households and businesses still contain asbestos. This means many individuals are facing significant risk of exposure every day.

Furthermore, without adequate awareness and knowledge of the dangers related to asbestos, many people have been directly and indirectly exposed to this product. For example, in the past, workers would not wear personal protective clothing over their work gear, which meant fibres were carried home at the end of the work day. This resulted in many spouses and children being indirectly exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos best practice in the workplace

To help minimise the effect of asbestos in Australian households and businesses, Safe Work Australia has created a model framework for the management of asbestos material in the workplace.

In addition to accessing training in awareness and removal, Safe Work Australia recommends employers invest in education and management policies such as:

  • Increasing awareness of naturally occurring asbestos
  • Promoting identification of products and materials that may contain the fibres
  • Employing certified asbestos removal teams to rid workplace of all materials
  • Licensing and meeting competency requirements of asbestos removalists and assessors.

Following these regulations should help all Australian employers and workers avoid preventable asbestos exposure in the workplace. This, in turn, should result in a future decline in the number of third-party asbestos victims diagnosed with potentially fatal diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Protecting yourself and your family

In addition to the many best practice policies aimed at minimising exposure in the workplace, a number of measures should be integrated into procedures to help protect against in-direct exposure.

Perhaps most significant is the use of personal protective clothing – such as asbestos-grade coveralls – when undertaking asbestos removal. When practical to do so, disposable clothing should be worn, so laundering is avoided. Additionally, boot-covers, P2 masks and gloves should also be made available.

This is important because when asbestos fibres become airborne, they can settle on a worker’s clothing and be carried home at the end of the work day. Then, when the clothing is removed for laundering, these fibres become airborne again, distributing themselves into the household and putting the worker’s family at risk.

Disposable coveralls, graded to type 5 and category 3, should be worn whenever in contact with asbestos fibres. Once work is completed, the coveralls should only be removed once all cleaning has been finished. When removed, the coveralls need to be sealed within two plastics bags – at least 200 microns thick – and disposed of at a registered asbestos site.

If it not reasonable practical for you to wear disposable coveralls during asbestos-related work, laundering your work clothes should never be conducting in your home laundry or equivalent.

In Australia, it is important to ensure any clothing that may contain asbestos fibres is removed while damp, sealed in impermeable bags and delivered to a laundering facility that is equipped to handle asbestos. Workers delivering clothing must inform the facility of the risk of asbestos to ensure unintentional exposure does not occur.

This can include the clothing worn under graded coveralls, as any unknown wear or tears in this gear can result in asbestos fibres being present on clothing.

If you would like more information on protecting your family from asbestos exposure, get in touch with AlertForce to access comprehensive asbestos awareness and removal training.