More Funding for Asbestos Safety Agency

Master Builders commends the announcement made today by the Minister for Workplace Relations, Hon Bill Shorten, of additional funding of $6.4 million for the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

Master Builders supports the introduction of best practice for asbestos management, control and removal.

Currently, 600 Australians are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year. The number of people diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions is rising with the number of people diagnosed with asbestos related diseases expected to peak in 2020. By then it is estimated that there will be up to 40,000 cases of asbestos-related disease.

Wilhelm Harnisch, Master Builders Chief Executive said that asbestos-related diseases are moving away from heavy exposures during the mining, milling and manufacture of asbestos to diseases resulting from exposures during the abatement of loose asbestos and the use and removal of asbestos containing materials.

“The occupations that account for the greatest number of mesothelioma cases have changed over the years from miners/millers, product manufacturers and insulation workers to other end-users of asbestos-containing materials, in particular workers in the building and construction industry and in shipyards,” Mr Harnisch said.

“Although the level of individual risk is lower for such end-users, the higher number of workers in building and construction means that these workers contribute greater absolute numbers to the national mesothelioma toll.

However, Master Builders has some concerns about Government’s National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management 2013-2018 that was also released today.

“One of the strategies is for the development and implementation of a Prioritised Removal Program of asbestos in commercial and government buildings. Such a plan would create unnecessary risks to workers involved in the removal, transport and disposal of the asbestos and to the public,” Mr Harnisch said.

“The risks posed by asbestos depend on the nature and condition of the materials and the potential for exposure. Left undisturbed, bonded asbestos material in good condition does not pose a risk to health,” he said.

“Master Builders’ preferred approach is that, wherever possible, asbestos should not be disturbed. Where there is a risk of deterioration of the asbestos material, such as with the weathering of asbestos roofing, Master Builders recommends that the asbestos containing material only be removed by a licensed removalist.”

Master Builders also has concerns over the disposal of asbestos materials if a Prioritised Removal Program was given the green light. For example, there are currently no disposal facilities in the Northern Territory that accept commercial quantities of asbestos. This results in asbestos products needing to be transported interstate to facilities such as in Dublin, South Australia.

“Master Builders recommends that the additional funding given to the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency be spent on education programs that encourage home owners who plan to renovate a pre-1990 home to engage a licensed asbestos removalist to identify and, if required, remove asbestos from the home.”

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