Asbestos and Asbestosis

Published 31 Aug 2017

The widespread use of asbestos in Australia has left a deadly legacy with the potential to impact the entire Australian community. What is asbestos exactly? The Australian Government describes asbestos as a term for a collection of six naturally occurring mineral fibers divided into the serpentine group and the amphibole group.

For a long time, it was regarded as one of the most versatile minerals because of its insulation from heat and electricity, tensile strength, flexibility, chemical alertness, and affordability. This made it appealing to many industries. Roughly one-third of all houses built in Australia contain asbestos products and the country was one of the highest users of asbestos per capita in the world until the mid-1980s.

Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) can be grouped into friable and non-friable. Non-friable asbestos is mixed with other materials such as cement and is the type most frequently found in structures. Friable asbestos is more likely to become airborne. Both types represent a substantial health risk to all workers and other people if the materials are not removed carefully or properly maintained.

Health risks occur where there are:

  • Ambient levels of asbestos
  • Building and/or maintenance work involving ACMs
  • Damaged ACMs
  • Weathering of ACMs
  • Removal and/or demolition of ACMs

Asbestos in the Home

Generally, if your house was built before the mid-1980s, it is highly likely it would contain some ACMs. If it was built between the mid-1980s and 1990, it is likely it would have ACMs. If it was built after 1990, it is unlikely it would have ACMs. There is no way to tell whether a material contains asbestos by just looking at it. To be sure, have a sample of the material tested by the National Association of Testing Authorities. In addition, an asbestos survey can be taken to help in inform you of its location, condition, and steps on how to manage the risks.

Natural disasters such as bushfires, cyclones, and floods can cause significant damage to property containing ACMs by causing the release of asbestos fibres. The disaster recovery planning by your state and territory government includes plans and funding to clean up asbestos following an emergency.

Asbestos in the Workplace

Work Heath Safety (WHS) Regulations establish training and competency standards for asbestos assessors, asbestos removal workers and their supervisors. There are two licenses, Class A and Class B. Businesses holding a Class A license are allowed to remove all types of asbestos, friable and non-friable. Those having a Class B license can only remove non-friable asbestos. A more recent license category for asbestos assessors allows them to conduct air monitoring and clearance inspections after the removal of friable asbestos.

Safe Work Australia has provided two model Codes of Practice providing guidance for persons conducting a business under the Work Health Safety Act and Work Health Safety Regulations. They are How to Safely Remove Asbestos and How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by moderate long-term exposure or short high-intensity exposure to asbestos fibre and dust. When the fibres are inhaled, they become lodged inside a person’s lung causing scarring or “fibrosis” of the lung tissue. Common symptoms are a dry cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue and pain. It can take between 5 and 20 years for asbestos symptoms to develop after first exposure to the asbestos fibres.

Although there is no time limit in which to bring a claim for damages arising from the disease, it must be started while the client is still alive.

Gerard Malouf & Partners are Accredited Specialists in Personal Injury Law with over 26 years of experience. They have become experts in claims involving exposures to residues from silica and asbestos which can result in asbestosis, mesothelioma, silicosis, asbestos-related pleural disease, lung cancer, and other dust-related conditions. If the condition is life threatening, they can have an expert confer with you within 48 hours of your initial telephone call. Please take advantage of a free consultation with Gerard Malouf and Partners.