Construction and maintenance workers face the highest risk of disturbing asbestos-containing materials and breathing in deadly asbestos fibres. Because of this, tradespeople are the most likely group of people to be diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.
Before starting any job, you should always be aware if asbestos is present so that you can take the right precautions to protect yourself and your families - who could inhale asbestos fibres that might be stuck to your clothes.
One third of all buildings in Australia contain asbestos products. If you are working on a building or structure that was built before 1990, it is likely that it would have some asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
Commercial buildings built before 31 December 2003 should have an asbestos register. An asbestos register is a document that lists all identified (or assumed) asbestos in a workplace. You should always make sure that you have seen a copy of a current asbestos register before starting any construction or maintenance work. If you think that the work you are about to do will disturb asbestos, you should talk to the person with management or control of the workplace, or alternatively, your health and safety representative.
Similarly, if you are working on a residential property, homeowners are advised to have an asbestos survey of their home, and they should provide tradespeople with the asbestos survey report before any work begins.
It is also important to note that DIY/unlicensed asbestos removal is not recommended and in some states is not legal. In the ACT, all asbestos removal work must be carried out by a licensed asbestos removalist.
In all other states and territories, a ‘competent person’ is allowed to remove non-friable asbestos as long as the area is no bigger than 10m². For more information on removing less than 10m² of non-friable asbestos, you can visit the DIY removal pages.
Whatever the circumstance is, make sure you have at least undertaken appropriate asbestos awareness training so that you can identify asbestos risks at work.
Work health and safety regulator in your state or territory - for specific rules, regulations and guidance that could apply to you and the job you are working on.
Safe Work Australia model Code of Practice on how to manage and control asbestos in the workplace – for practical guidance on how to manage risks associated with asbestos and asbestos-containing materials.
www.training.gov.au - for asbestos awareness and training courses and to find a training provider.