Lurking in many places

Safe and effective substitutes: These are now possible for all products previously containing asbestos although there isn't one product that does it all. Photo: Shutterstock
Safe and effective substitutes: These are now possible for all products previously containing asbestos although there isn't one product that does it all. Photo: Shutterstock

If a home was built or renovated prior to 1990, there is a good chance it has some asbestos.

Asbestos Awareness Week is held November 23-29, as there is still asbestos present in millions of Australian homes and can be easily disturbed when doing renovations, home improvements and maintenance.

"Our theme for 2020 is 'Asbestos lurks in more places than you'd think' with the sub-theme 'before you start, be aware'," a spokesperson said. "This relates to the fact that people are using the extra time we all have at home due to COVID-19 to do home improvements and maintenance.

"It encourages people to be aware of the potential asbestos risks before they start any work."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers asbestos as 'one of the most important occupational carcinogens' (WHO, 2014).

Asbestos - including chrysotile - can cause mesothelioma; cancer of the lung, larynx and ovaries; asbestosis (fibrosis or scarring of the lungs); and pleural disease such as plaques, thickening or effusion (leaking of fluid).

The WHO recommended in 2003 that stopping the use of all types of asbestos is the most effective approach.

Chrysotile has been banned in Australia as of December 31, 2003 from an occupational, human health and environmental risk perspective. Advice that all exposure should be avoided still holds true today.

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Council in Australia is made up of chair John Williams and nine members appointed under the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Act (2013).

The Council monitors the implementation of the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management and provides advice to the CEO.

The National Asbestos Exposure Register (NAER) records information for those who exposed to asbestos for their future reference. See asbestossafety.gov.au

The campaign messaging has three parts:

  • KNOW the health risks of asbestos exposure
  • BE AWARE of where asbestos might be found before you start work ("it lurks in more places than you'd think")
  • CALL a professional to check, remove and dispose of it safely.

For more information, see asbestossafety.gov.au

Exposure to asbestos claims

Exposure to asbestos, widely used in building and insulation materials, can cause illness many years later.

Exposure can occur at work and in non-work related settings such as during home renovations or coming into contact with clothes contaminated with asbestos fibres.

A person diagnosed with a dust related lung condition may have a claim against an employer or a third party such as the asbestos product manufacturer.

Those cases are brought in the Dust Diseases Tribunal, a specialist court which hears dust disease cases.

Workers exposed to dust at work whilst employed by a NSW employer also have rights to claim statutory weekly payments plus medical expenses, lawn mowing, travel and domestic assistance through icare.

Michelle Walsh, lawyer in dust disease compensation.

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