Asbestos removal, also known as asbestos abatement, is a controlled process of removing asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) from a building or structure. ACM refers to any material that contains more than 1% asbestos, which is linked to numerous diseases, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.
Only licensed asbestos removal professionals are qualified to handle the removal of asbestos from homes and buildings, as it is a highly regulated process that must be carried out safely and disposed of legally.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral composed of long, thin, flexible fibers. It is heat-resistant, durable, and does not rust easily, making it a popular choice for use in construction and manufacturing. Despite its benefits, asbestos exposure can lead to serious health problems, and many countries have regulated its use.
Types of Asbestos
There are several types of asbestos, including chrysotile (white asbestos), amosite (brown or grey asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos), tremolite and actinolite, and anthophyllite. Each type has different properties and can be found in various construction materials.
Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACMs)
ACMs can be harmful if not properly maintained or removed. Inhaling asbestos fibers can result in serious health issues, including lung cancer. There are two types of ACMs: friable and non-friable. Friable asbestos is more likely to become airborne and poses a greater health risk, while non-friable asbestos is more difficult to break apart and is less of a health risk.
Asbestos-Contaminated Dust or Debris (ACD)
ACD can occur anywhere that friable materials are present. If disturbed, these materials can release asbestos fibers into the air, putting workers or occupants at risk of inhaling them. Only a licensed asbestos removalist should handle ACD.
Uses and Where to Find Asbestos
Asbestos has been banned in 61 countries, including Australia, where it was banned in 2003. Despite the ban, it remains in many older buildings, machinery parts, and products, and can be difficult to remove. Asbestos can be found in many places, including roofs, walls, ceilings, insulation, floor tiles, boilers, and hot water systems.
Asbestos Exposure: Who is at Risk?
Asbestos exposure can be dangerous to anyone who inhales its fibers, but certain occupations are at a higher risk. People who work in construction, demolition, shipbuilding, and other industries that involve asbestos-containing materials are at a higher risk of exposure. Additionally, electricians, computer cabling installers, air-conditioning installers, plumbers, and maintenance workers are also at an increased risk.
It’s important to note that exposure to asbestos can occur in any building or structure built before the 1990s. This means that anyone living or working in an older building could be at risk of exposure.
WHS Duties and Licensing Requirements
Handling asbestos is hazardous and requires proper management to ensure the safety of workers and the public. Under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws, the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must protect workers from the risks of asbestos and take all reasonable steps to ensure its safe removal.
Only trained and licensed removalists are qualified to perform asbestos removal. There are three types of asbestos removal licenses: Class A (can remove all kinds of asbestos), Class B (only able to remove non-friable asbestos), and licensed asbestos assessors.
Managing Asbestos in the Workplace
The Model Code of Practice: How to Safely Remove Asbestos recommends the following steps to manage asbestos in the workplace:
- Monitor the health of workers: Workers who may be exposed to asbestos should undergo health monitoring, including a medical examination and recording of exposure results.
- Provide asbestos awareness training: Workers should receive proper training on asbestos removal, including knowledge about health effects, types of asbestos, safe work procedures, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Obtain an asbestos register: The person with management or control of the workplace should maintain an up-to-date asbestos register that includes information about asbestos locations, types, and conditions.
- Prepare a control plan: A control plan should be in place to minimize the risk of exposure to asbestos during the removal process.
- Place signage, barricades, and warnings: Appropriate signs, barricades, and warning notices should be in place to warn of asbestos hazards.
- Perform decontamination: After completing asbestos removal work, licensed removalists should decontaminate themselves and their equipment to prevent exposure to hazardous asbestos fibers.
- Provide PPE: PPE, including gloves, respiratory protective equipment, coveralls, protective eyewear, and air-line respirators, should be provided to all workers in the area.
- Conduct air monitoring: Air monitoring should be performed to understand the levels of asbestos fibers in the air.
Asbestos removal is a highly regulated process that should only be performed by licensed and trained professionals. Asbestos exposure can lead to serious health problems, including lung cancer and mesothelioma, and it’s essential to manage it properly in the workplace. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can help ensure the safety of workers and others and protect them from the risks of asbestos exposure.