What is asbestos and do employees working around it, need to be monitored?

Mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer, has a relative 5-year survival rate of only 5% to 10%.  Mesothelioma, along with Asbestosis, Lung Cancer and Plural Plaque, are diseases that arise from exposure to air-born asbestos fibre.

Workers involved in asbestos related work are required to complete health monitoring for diseases that arise from inhaling airborne asbestos fibres.

Asbestos is fire resistant, strong under tension and possesses properties that make it resistant to chemicals and a good electrical insulator.  Because of these characteristics, it has many commercial uses, ranging from clothing to sound-proofing.

The 6 types of raw asbestos mineral that have been mined in the past are chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite.  Of these Chrysotile has been the most commonly used for manufacturing.

Manufactured asbestos is either friable or non-friable.  Friable asbestos is easily reduced to powder when crushed by hand.  The materials that contain high concentrations of this type of asbestos are likely to release fibres when broken or damaged.  Friable asbestos must only be handled by an asbestos removalist with an ‘A’ class licence.

Non-friable asbestos is firmly bound in a matrix of material.  These materials are unlikely to release dangerous levels of asbestos fibres if they are left undisturbed.  Common examples of these included ‘fibro’, ‘asbestos cement’ and ‘AC sheeting’.

How asbestos health monitoring performed?

Asbestos health monitoring must be completed under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner.  During Asbestos Medicals, the following information is collected:

  • The worker’s demographic, medical and occupational history;
  • Medical records documenting any history of prior exposure to chemicals requiring health monitoring;
  • Results of a physical examination on the worker – in particular respiratory system with standard lung function tests.

Legislation requirements – when you should be monitored and how frequently?

A business conducting Asbestos related work, including asbestos removal, must ensure periodic health monitoring is provided to the worker.

Monitoring should occur prior to commencing asbestos related work and at least once every two years if this type of work is continued.

Further Information

Safe Work Australia – Asbestos Health Monitoring Guidelines

Work Safe Queensland – Asbestos Health Monitoring

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