Asbestos Safety Tips
From causing chronic shortness of breath to tissue scarring to fatal lung cancer, asbestos is one of the last things you ever want to come in contact with. Despite this, asbestos is everywhere in Australia, including places where many people spend the most time – their homes and workplaces.
So why do many Australians get diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases?
Asbestos containing materials (ACM) is found on fences, lining gutters, and even lining walls of dog kennels. Inside isn’t much safer, either with fireplace flues, floor tiles, and even walls comprised of it.
Like most Australians, you likely probably already know the potentially fatal effects of asbestos and that it requires special safety precautions when coming in contact with it. Unfortunately this fear has resulted in a number of misconceptions on how asbestos should be treated when you do find yourself face to face with it.
Here are 7 popular misconceptions to be aware of that could potentially save lives:
1. Contact with asbestos in small quantities is safe
There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres, according to both the Australian Department of Health and the World Health Organisation.
Inhaling any amount of asbestos fibres may have negative effects on your health. This is particularly dangerous if you regularly come in contact with these fibres because they build up over time.
Every time you inhale asbestos your likelihood of developing asbestos-related diseases increases, so it’s always better to avoid it completely.
2. A dust mask keeps me safe from inhaling asbestos
Regular dust masks are totally unsafe to use when handling asbestos because fibers and dust particles may pass through them.
To protect yourself from inhaling these harmful materials, use a half-face filter respirator or a twin-strap disposable respirator that is either class P1 or P2. Any breathing protection you wear should also comply with Australian Standard 1716.
3. All asbestos materials should be always be immediately removed from your home
Using asbestos in your home construction should be avoided, but you don’t necessarily have to to remove all existing asbestos containing materials right away. Immediately removing asbestos without preparation and proper care can be dangerous.
For example, concrete that contain asbestos do not pose a significant health risk to you if they are undisturbed. In this case, the fibres are all contained within the concrete as long as it is in good condition. They will begin posing a risk when the fibres are released when the cement starts to crumble, or when it is drilled or sanded.
If the materials are in good condition, you can choose to reinforce it to better seal in the fibres by painting or coating its surface.
IMPORTANT: Always consult a licensed professional first before working on any ACM on your own and follow proper safety procedures.
4. My house is asbestos-free if it was built after the year 1990
If your house was built after 1990, then it is unlikely that asbestos was used in its construction, however it is still possible for houses in the 1990s and early 2000s to contain asbestos cement materials. This is because the total ban only became effective in Australia on December 2003.
Here’s a general guide from the Department of Health’s asbestos safety guide:
5. If I don’t feel any immediate health effects, then my house is asbestos-free
The negative health effects of asbestos build up over time and you may not feel it right away. Symptoms take years and even decades to develop, which creates a false sense of safety.
Infrequent exposure is unlikely to result in ill effects for most people, but if you continue inhaling fibers then you increase your chances of getting sick in the long term.
In other words, you may be diagnosed with an asbestos-related diseases 20 years in the future if you aren’t aware of the fibres floating in your home.
6. Materials created with asbestos are tough and safe
You should regularly check the condition of asbestos containing materials if they are present in your home to make sure they do not pose any significant risk to you.
Cement roofs with asbestos or roofing that has become weathered are particularly prone to becoming brittle and it’s easy to fall through them or cause a crack that may release hazardous fibres in the air.
7. I can tell if a material contains asbestos by looking at it
Most people can’t tell if a building material contains asbestos unless they’re a licensed professional with years of experience.
If you have reasons to suspect that your home may have hazardous materials, always check with a professional before you decide to act on your own.
As you can see, these common misconceptions could lead to serious and even fatal health consequences if they are fully believed.
Asbestos containing materials are hazardous, but promoting misconceptions about it can be just as dangerous. Fortunately, there are several things you can do stay safe in your workplace, home and other places.
If you are concerned your house, workplace, or business may have asbestos, talk to a asbestos removal professional immediately to allay any of your concerns. Check out the following guide (click on the image to view the full size) to know where asbestos may be around your home:
If you would like to learn more about promoting health and safety in your home and workplace, look up nationally accredited courses such as the Certificate IV in Work Health and Safety.
If you are uncertain about what to do, stay safe and seek professional advice through your local asbestos safety organisations:
Canberra and Australian Capital Territory (ACT):
02 6207 3000
Sydney and New South Wales (NSW):
13 10 50
Melbourne and Victoria (VIC):
03 9641 1444
Brisbane and Queensland (QLD):
13 74 68
Adelaide and South Australia (SA):
Darwin and Northern Territory (NT):
1800 019 115
Hobart and Tasmania (TAS):
03 6166 4600
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