Jobs With High Risk of Asbestos Exposure in Australia and Places of Potential Exposure

In Australia, the battle against asbestos-related diseases, particularly mesothelioma, persists despite the nationwide ban on asbestos that has been in effect since the end of 2003. In 2021, the nation recorded 637 new cases of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer primarily caused by asbestos exposure, with the median age at diagnosis standing at 77 years. Furthermore, the year witnessed 708 deaths attributed to this devastating disease, highlighting a mortality rate of 2.1 deaths per 100,000 population. These figures underscore a significant ongoing public health challenge, emphasising that the spectre of asbestos continues to loom over Australian workplaces.

The enduring issue of asbestos exposure in the workplace is a critical concern, given that the material was extensively used in various industries and construction materials throughout much of the 20th century. Today, decades after the comprehensive ban, asbestos still presents a risk in older buildings, infrastructure, and materials. Workers involved in renovation, demolition, and maintenance activities in these settings may inadvertently be exposed to asbestos fibres, risking their health.

In this article, we aim to shed light on the continued threat of asbestos exposure in Australian workplaces and the occupations in Australia facing the highest risk of asbestos exposure. We also aim to provide you with more information as to why professional asbestos removal is key in reducing asbestos exposure.

How does asbestos exposure happen?

Asbestos exposure occurs when fibres from asbestos-containing materials become airborne and are inhaled or ingested. These fibres can become lodged in the lung tissues, leading to scarring, inflammation, and potentially, over time, to serious health conditions such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Despite the known risks, asbestos was widely used in construction, manufacturing, and several other industries until its ban in Australia at the end of 2003 due to its durability, fire resistance, and insulating properties.

Exposure to asbestos can happen in various ways, particularly in environments where asbestos-containing materials are disturbed. This disturbance can occur during demolition, renovation, repair, or maintenance work on buildings and structures that contain asbestos. When these materials are drilled, cut, or otherwise manipulated, asbestos fibres can be released into the air. Once airborne, these fibres pose a risk to anyone in the vicinity who might inhale or ingest them.

Occupational exposure is notably high among workers in certain industries, particularly those involved in construction, demolition, shipbuilding, and manufacturing using asbestos-containing products. Additionally, mechanics who work on older vehicles with asbestos-containing brake pads and linings, as well as utility workers who deal with old asbestos-cement pipes or insulation, are at risk. We will talk about high-risk occupations in more detail shortly.

Understanding how asbestos exposure occurs is crucial for implementing effective safety protocols and prevention strategies. Recognising high-risk environments and occupations allows for targeted actions to minimise exposure, including proper training, use of protective equipment, and adherence to strict regulations regarding the handling and removal of asbestos-containing materials. As we delve deeper into the occupations most at risk, the emphasis on education, vigilance, and professional handling of asbestos becomes increasingly apparent, underscoring the need for ongoing efforts to protect workers and the public from asbestos-related health risks.

Occupations at high risk of asbestos exposure

In Australia, several occupations carry a high risk of asbestos exposure due to the nature of the work involved, particularly in industries where asbestos-containing materials were historically used. Understanding these risks is crucial for implementing appropriate safety measures and health monitoring for workers in these fields.

1. Construction and Demolition Workers: Individuals involved in the construction, renovation, and demolition of buildings and structures that predate the asbestos ban are at significant risk. Asbestos was widely used in roofing, insulation, flooring, and cement products in buildings constructed before the early 1980s.

2. Electricians and Plumbers: These tradespeople often work in environments where asbestos-containing materials were used for insulation, wiring, and plumbing. Cutting into walls or removing old insulation can release asbestos fibres into the air.

3. Shipyard Workers: Asbestos was extensively used in shipbuilding for its fire-resistant properties, particularly in insulation, boilers, and pipes. Workers involved in ship construction, repair, or scrapping may encounter asbestos.

4. Manufacturing Workers: Individuals who worked in manufacturing plants that produced asbestos-containing products, such as textiles, insulation, or automotive parts, are at risk of exposure. Although the use of asbestos has decreased significantly, some older plants may still contain asbestos materials.

5. Mechanics: Auto mechanics working on older vehicles might be exposed to asbestos through brake pads and linings, clutches, and gaskets that contain asbestos. Repairing or replacing these parts can release asbestos fibres.

6. Mining Industry: Although asbestos mining in Australia has ceased, those who worked in the industry prior to the ban may have been exposed to high levels of asbestos fibres.

7. Railway Workers: Asbestos was used in the construction of railway carriages, particularly in brake shoes and undercarriage insulation. Maintenance and repair of these components can expose workers to asbestos.

For workers in these and other at-risk occupations, strict adherence to safety protocols and regulations is essential. This includes wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), undergoing regular health surveillance, and ensuring that asbestos removal and handling are performed by licensed professionals. Awareness and education about the risks and safety measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of asbestos exposure and related health issues.

How to avoid asbestos exposure in the workplace

Mitigating the risk of asbestos exposure requires a combination of awareness, precaution, and professional intervention, especially in environments where asbestos-containing materials are suspected or known to be present. Here are key steps to reduce the chances of exposure:

1. Identify Asbestos: Before commencing any renovation, demolition, or repair work in older buildings, it’s crucial to identify materials that may contain asbestos. This often requires a professional asbestos survey.

2. Avoid Disturbing Asbestos: If asbestos-containing materials are in good condition and not likely to be disturbed, they may not pose an immediate risk. In such cases, leaving the material undisturbed and regularly monitoring its condition can be a safer option.

3. Professional Removal: When removal is necessary, it should only be carried out by licensed asbestos removal specialists. These professionals have the training, equipment, and certification to safely remove, handle, and dispose of asbestos materials, minimising the risk of fibre release into the environment.

4. Use Protective Equipment: In settings where asbestos exposure might occur, using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as respirators and disposable overalls, can protect individuals from inhaling or ingesting fibres.

5. Follow Regulations and Guidelines: Adhering to local and national regulations and guidelines for asbestos management, removal, and disposal is essential for ensuring safety and compliance.

For those in Australia requiring professional asbestos removal services, Asbestos Australia offers specialised removal and disposal services. We are equipped to handle various types of asbestos concerns, ensuring that removal and disposal are conducted in a safe, efficient, and compliant manner. Utilising the expertise of specialists like Asbestos Australia can significantly mitigate the risks associated with asbestos exposure, protecting health and safety.

Worried about asbestos in your workplace?

If you suspect the presence of asbestos in your property or workplace, or if you’re planning any activities that might disturb asbestos-containing materials, it’s crucial to seek professional help. Asbestos Australia is a certified specialist in the safe removal and disposal of asbestos. We provide a comprehensive range of services to ensure that asbestos is handled correctly, minimising any risk to health and safety.

Get in touch with here or by calling us on 03 9704 2952.

Tommy Clappers

Tommy Clappers

Tommy Clappers is the Owner and Founder of Asbestos Australia Removalist specialising as a Class A & B Licensed Company with highly trained ticketed staff with over 25+ years in the industry in Friable & Non-Friable Commercial, Industrial & Domestic. He's well-skilled in all types of Asbestos Removal and Hazardous Materials. He's an expert in Encapsulation, Soil Remediation and Industrial Cleaning. He prides himself on creating safer environments for his team and his client's safety and ensuring every removal is safe and clean. He currently resides in Melbourne, Australia.

Posted By: Tommy Clappers

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