Asbestos Fact File

Over the course of a century, asbestos went from being a trusted building material to a public health hazard. Although it poses a low risk to the general public, asbestos can be hazardous when exposed or damaged. In this blog, we take a closer look at what asbestos is, how to identify if asbestos is present in your business premises, and what you need to do to ensure OH&S compliance.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is an umbrella term for six different types of mineral fibres from the serpentine group and the amphibole group. A key characteristic of asbestos is the way that the mineral grows as a fibrous aggregate (asbestiform) of crystals which are made up of millions of tiny fibrils. From the late 19th century asbestos, was used in Australia as a multifunctional building material. Australia was one of the highest per capita users of asbestos and it is estimated that between 1930 and 1983, 1.5 million tons of asbestos was imported into the country. Large scale asbestos mining also occurred in a number of Australian states including Western Australia and New South Wales.

Why is it considered a health hazard?

The asbestiform habit of these minerals means that when they are disturbed the fibrils break away and become airborne. If fibrils are inhaled, they can cause a whole host of serious health problems and are impossible to remove once lodged in the lungs. Although the lung conditions arising from asbestos take decades to develop, they tend to be severe. The four most common conditions arising from asbestos exposure are pleural plaques, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

How likely is it that there is asbestos present on my commercial premises?

If the building you are operating in was built before 1980, it’s highly likely that there is at least some kind of asbestos material present on the premises. Due to its low cost, strength and versatility, asbestos was used in a diverse range of building materials and products including insulation, soundproofing, fibre board, pipe insulation, carped underlay, backing material, decorative ceiling coatings, brick and plater sealants, roofing, shingles and siding, wall cladding, eaves, fencing, and piping.

How worried should I be?

If asbestos is bonded (mixed in with other materials) and properly sealed with paint or another finish, then there is a very low risk of exposure. However, if friable (crumbly) asbestos is present or if bonded products are exposed during renovations, then removal may be necessary. If you operate a business in an older building, its best to get a formal asbestos inspection by qualified environmental consultants to identify any possible hazards and help you develop a management plan.

To book a comprehensive inspection, call Alpha Environmental on 9415 8002.