Imported building materials found to contain asbestos

Date: Aug 14, 2015

WorkCover NSW has issued a safety alert following news that asbestos has been found in building materials used on a Sydney construction site.

The company working on the project had imported fibrous building panels from China that were thought to be asbestos-free. However, the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) examined the products and discovered chrysotile asbestos.

The material is hazardous to health, causing serious illnesses such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Victims of asbestos-related diseases typically came into contact with the substance during the course of their employment.

According to WorkCover NSW, many countries still use asbestos in building materials, although it is prohibited in Australia. Some products may be labelled as ‘asbestos-free’ when manufactured abroad, but foreign standards can often be different.

For example, other nations may categorise a product as asbestos-free if it only contains small amounts of the material. In Australia, any level of asbestos breaches regulations.

The building site where the panels were used was issued a prohibition notice. The company was also required to enlist the services of an expert asbestos removalist to take away any hazardous materials.

Some of the expanded polystyrene panels had already been cut and damaged, meaning they could pose a threat to employee health.

WorkCover warning

Asbestos is one of a number of potentially dangerous materials workers can be exposed to at their job. Any substance that can form into a dust that people can inhale may lead to serious lung diseases.

WorkCover NSW said asbestos has been banned for nearly 12 years in Australia, so organisations must be careful when bringing building materials into the country from overseas.

“Importers should be aware of the varying definitions and standards applied in the country of origin and/or supply,” the agency stated. “Certification provided to importers from overseas manufacturers that goods are asbestos-free have sometimes found to be wrong for the purposes of our regulations.”

The organisation offered various tips to prevent building companies from making mistakes during the importing process. Firstly, businesses should ask for certification from manufacturers that products are asbestos-free.

Further evidence, such as testing results for goods from the supplier, is recommended. WorkCover also suggested organising NATA laboratory testing of the materials before they are shipped, as Australian regulations are enforced at the country’s border.

The NATA testing procedure is called the AS 4964 Method for the qualitative identification of asbestos in bulk samples. However, internationally equivalent facilities should have similar processes.

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