Study: Australian Workers Still at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

On Feb. 15, Safe Work Australia released the results of a study aimed to determine construction and maintenance workers’ current attitudes, awareness, compliance and exposure levels to asbestos in their workplaces.

Major findings in the report, “Asbestos Exposure and Compliance Study of Construction and Maintenance Workers,” include:

  • Most tradespersons were aware of the potential health risks of asbestos.
  • This high level of general awareness is not accompanied by the knowledge of how to recognize asbestos or control the risks when working with it. Although workers believe they can identify asbestos materials, in practice their ability to reliably identify them was limited. This was generally because their identification skills were insufficient, asbestos registers often were absent or inaccurate and few premises labeled materials or areas containing asbestos.
  • Almost all workers surveyed thought they could protect themselves from the risk of asbestos. However, the overall level of compliance with safety procedures was much lower than was estimated by these workers.
  • There was inappropriate disposal of asbestos and contaminated materials.
  • Atmospheric monitoring of a limited number of selected work tasks showed that all exposures were below the workplace exposure standard.

Safe Work Australia Chair Tom Phillips said that this study adds significantly to the knowledge of the awareness of and compliance with occupational health and safety legislation by workers in relation to asbestos.

“It is concerning that although tradespeople have a high level of awareness and confidence in being able to protect themselves, this is not matched with the use of necessary safety precautions when working with asbestos,” he said.

“The results of this study will be used to inform effective strategies to eliminate, or reduce, worker exposure to asbestos. Local, state and federal governments must work together to improve worker education and information on asbestos, particularly the development of practical advice on how workers can protect themselves from exposure to asbestos, and on safe asbestos removal and disposal. This will help to reduce both individual suffering and the substantial cost to families and the community,” Phillips said.

The report can be found at http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au.

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