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Asbestos, naturally found in silicate minerals, has long been banned in industrial use in Australia due to health and safety regulations. Despite its excellent application in construction during the end of the 19th century, like in electrical insulation and high heat resistance, the consequences it brought to human health have outweighed the advantages. As a result, it is now categorised as one of the highly hazardous chemicals by the local government and requires specialists with asbestos licensing to be safely removed. Let’s have a close look at what it is, the risks of asbestos, methods of asbestos disposal, and finally, the code of practice associated with this activity.

An Overview of Asbestos Materials

It is not until recently that people started applying asbestos in producing everyday utensils. Having been in use since at least 4,500 years ago, it once was used to strengthen the earthenware pots and cooking items of a group of Eastern Finland citizens. During the Medieval period, the ancients put asbestos on a pedestal, calling it “unquenchable” in the clothing production by making shrouds for their kings out of it to avoid ashes mixed with other combustible materials. It explains the later large-scale asbestos production in the mid-19thcentury. With the support of machinery technology, the use soon spread on a global scale in multiple asbestos products, including:

• Bricks, pipes, cement sheetings, and plastic sheetings

• Heat- and acid-resistant gaskets

• Pipe and ceiling insulation

• Flooring, roofing, fireproof drywall, etc.

However, this widespread use did not last long. After some fatal accidents related to asbestos textile workplaces occurred, multiple inspections and studies were conducted by local police and medical researchers. They concluded that the prolonged inhalation of asbestos dust was the direct cause of asbestosis, resulting in many disputes resolution cases from the enterprises. Asbestos was also categorised as one of the most hazardous chemicals by health and safety representatives. Since then, the asbestos removal industry has swiftly replaced the previous one.

This quick shift in application reflects in Australia's circumstances. From 1946 to 1980, asbestos was recognised for its outstanding advantages by the public, resulting in its wide use in the construction industry. However, in 1980, the government implemented new rules and regulations associated with this chemical due to the worries about past events and risks of asbestos, making enforceable undertakings in front of the public. Finally, in 2003, it was completely phased out in the country, creating a take-over by the asbestos-removing industry.

Health Risks Associated with Asbestos

Asbestos is not dangerous unless it is in a friable form – meaning it is easily crumbled by hand and, therefore, easily swallowed or breathed in accidentally through the air. In general, it is not harmful until the fibres are stuck in your body. However, once it enters your body, it will be difficult to remove or destroy. Here are the three primary diseases caused by asbestos fibres:

• Asbestosis: It is known as untreatable and the results of this disease are often fatal or disabling. Symptoms range widely, varying from breathing shortness to cardiac failure in its advanced stages. It is mostly found in people who work on construction sites and usually practice demolishing buildings.

• Lung Cancer: It is known as the Grim Reaper for those who are affected by asbestos. The symptoms of this disease start from very inconsiderable ones such as coughing and a change in breathing, then slowly develop to chest pain, anaemia, etc. Those who are both affected by asbestos and other carcinogen are more likely to have lung cancer.

• Mesothelioma: Those who work in asbestos environments, such as mines, mills, factories and people who live near them or such places are at high risk of getting mesothelioma. This disease is another kind of cancer and is not easy to deal with once one is diagnosed with it.

The Australian government protects legal asbestos removalists with compensation laws if diagnosed with Mesothelioma and other serious diseases. However, it has to be officially reported after a health monitoring by qualified medical practitioners.

Possible Asbestos Exposure by Accident

Now that you are aware of the harmful effects of asbestos on your health, it is time to know how to spot asbestos in the home and conduct safe removals. There are many occasions that homeowners may accidentally face asbestos exposure in their homes. For example, if you drill into dry, large-scale asbestos-containing materials. Though having objects containing asbestos in them (floor tiles, intact laboratory cabinet tops, fire doors, siding shingles, etc.) does not cause any harm, it may become a problem once the materials are destroyed. In this case, the materials will release asbestos fibres into the air and cause accidental inhalation if you are unaware of its existence.

If you are good at identifying asbestos, you would want to know which material contains asbestos and carry out a DIY removal. Although it is legal to remove asbestos yourself, this is not a wise decision since it is hard to recognise asbestos just by looking at it and because of the undetermined amount. Instead, you should collect the dust samples and send them to local labs for testing. You need to know that the best way to treat the suspecting asbestos safely is to hire trained professionals to do their job.

Asbestos Licensing and Safety Regulations

Like any other toxic chemical, when it comes to the removal of asbestos, there are laws and regulations to follow, especially in Australia. The government has provided approved codes of practice with the statement of regulatory intent and practical guidance. Although many people working in different positions must comply with these safety laws, this article covers only the main compliance codes for asbestos removalists.

Depending on the quantity and type of asbestos, asbestos-containing materials (ACM) or asbestos-containing dust (ACD), an asbestos removalist needs to acquire a license to guarantee asbestos safety:

Class A: This license allows the licensed asbestos removalists to remove any types of asbestos, whether ACM or ACD, friable or non-friable, in any amount. The licencing fee for Class A is $1137.80 for a five-year validation.

Class B: This license permits the removalists to remove non-friable ACM or ACD in any amount. The licencing fee for Class B is $969.40 for a five-year validation.

• Non-license: There is a restriction in this category under both terms of quantity and asbestos types. It allows the removal of ACD, ACM, and non-friable asbestos with little concentration. This type is suitable for home renovators who gravitate towards DIY.

According to the asbestos code of practice, health monitoring duties essentially apply for those who:

• Conduct air monitoring for Class A asbestos removal work

• Conduct clearance inspections for Class A asbestos removal work

• Issue clearance certificates concerning Class A asbestos removal work

A person who deals with asbestos-related work, whether having a license or not, must have their health monitored by registered medical practitioners. Based on the worker’s frequency and duration of asbestos exposure combined with their demographic, occupation, medical history, and the results from the standardised test, health specialists can come up with a resulting report and appropriate treatment. Asbestos removalists must also prepare themselves with personal protection equipment and always wear them in asbestos removal areas to ensure workplace health and minimise the risk of asbestos.

Steps Taken to Safely Remove Asbestos

Removal contractors must comply with removing and disposing of asbestos laws. There are two types of asbestos decontamination processes: dry and wet. Asbestos removalists need to decontaminate themselves and the tools used for the removal process. After the removal process is done, asbestos bags, plastic sheets, and cement sheets containing the asbestos waste will be labelled and dumped into the asbestos waste bins or vehicle trays and transported under traffic management. Since this is the transportation of dangerous chemicals, it is covered under the Environmental Protection Activities (EPA) legislation.

Removalists must prepare disposal facilities, one of which are qualified, labelled asbestos containers. Once they have conducted a proper removal process, they will put asbestos waste into the containers before using them for safe removal of asbestos or transferring to the asbestos disposal facilities. There are safety alerts and clear warning signs in these areas so that removalists know what to do at distinctive places. Safe removal of asbestos is a very intricate job, requiring careful personal protective equipment distinguished for different levels of the project, and requires distinct techniques to accomplish for example wrap-and-cut. Therefore, workers must acquire white cards to be legally eligible for working in construction sites.

Access to Asbestos Removal Services During the Pandemic

Not only did the pandemic affect the customers and asbestos removal companies, but it also affected new contractors desiring to enter the marketplace. Different from the pre-pandemic era when any entry permit holders with licensed asbestos validation could work in the industry, now, only those with Covid-19 vaccinations are eligible to be asbestos removalists. Newbies need to notify Worksafe, submit their information for businesses, and get Covid-19 vaccinated. This makes the already difficult job of removing asbestos even harder. The difficulties increase as companies need to conduct safe removal of asbestos as per the code of practice, plant registration while also ensuring that they hire licensed asbestos removalists who have also gotten the Covid-19 vaccine.

Nowadays, homeowners with asbestos-related problems are only looking forward to identify asbestos, have the asbestos safely removed and avoid Corona Virus related hazards. If you live in Australia and find yourself in need of an asbestos removal company, do not hesitate to reach out to a reliable company such as Irwin Asbestos Management for quality services!

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