National Asbestos Awareness Week (NAAW), held from 22-28 November 2021, aims for Australian homeowners, renovators and tradespeople to understand the dangers of the fibrous silicate mineral.
Australia has one of the highest percentages of asbestos-related diseases in the world, with nearly 4,000 people dying due to asbestos complications each year. As well as this, asbestos affects 1 in 3 homes across Australia and a number of commercial and public buildings. Previously utilised for its insulative qualities, asbestos was banned nationwide in 2003 after a number of building unions commenced industrial action to ban the mineral in the 1970s. Given you can’t see the deadly mineral, raising awareness is imperative in ensuring the number of asbestos-related deaths each year is reduced.
The Federal Government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, along with state and territory government agencies and non-government organisations aim to raise awareness amongst the public and key trades about the health risks associated with exposure to asbestos fibres every year in November. This year’s theme for NAAW is Think Twice About Asbestos, which seeks to remind home renovators and tradespeople of the dangers of asbestos.
SHAPE Australia is a major supporter and advocate for NAAW, and has implemented a number of strategies and systems to ensure the safety of its employees, sub-contractors, and clients when dealing with asbestos. SHAPE’s Group Executive of Environment, Health, Safety, and Quality, Phillip Smith, says the company’s daily operations have it well positioned to be a leader in asbestos awareness every day.
“Due to the nature of the projects SHAPE works on, we often identify and safely manage asbestos that has not been identified within building asbestos registers. From this experience, we know there’s a very small margin of error between an asbestos exposure event or a safely managed asbestos hazard,” he says.
“Our combined management systems, processes, and training, with support from our core group of hygienists, have proven to be very effective in preventing asbestos-related incidents. There’s definitely a greater level of awareness these days, especially with the increasing presence of asbestos-related charities, organisations, and online resources that are easily accessible to the public.”
SHAPE has developed a series of strict protocols in order to identify and manage the presence of asbestos before its employees undertake work on a site.
“Our teams treat every site as if there was asbestos present until proven otherwise,” continues Smith.
“As part of this process we commission independent hygienists to conduct invasive inspections in all buildings constructed before 2004. Even then, we know asbestos can be lurking below, above, and within building materials where we don’t have access to. Our site specific induction process also ensures that all workers are aware of any asbestos risks and the safety protocols for accessing areas that have not been cleared by our hygienists.
“However, we don’t only rely on site inductions for our workers to be aware of the risks of asbestos. On each site, we also put detailed diagrams identifying the locations of asbestos (when present) as well as warning signage and labels in those specific locations. An asbestos incident emergency response plan also forms a part of every project's site noticeboard.”
For this year’s edition of NAAW, SHAPE Australia is rolling out an initiative reminiscent of the Aussie meat pie, which aims to highlight the risks of hidden asbestos. Smith says the campaign’s meat pie-themed posters can be seen across SHAPE worksites nationwide.
“With a meat pie, you know what you're getting on the outside, delicious buttery pastry, but you can never be too sure what’s inside until you bite into it. Same goes for asbestos – that plasterboard you’re cutting into may look safe from the outside, but if you don’t apply caution, you may be cutting through a layer of asbestos cement directly behind it.”
One of SHAPE’s latest and most useful safety initiatives is the SHAPE Minimum Standards (SMS) app. Since its release, the SMS app has helped to decrease the number of asbestos-related incidents on SHAPE worksites by 29 percent.
Accessible from any mobile device, the app allows workers to retrieve SHAPE’s Asbestos Management Procedures, which outlines useful safety standards in alignment to WHS legislations and Codes of Practice when working around asbestos. Smith encourages businesses, building consultants and trades to take advantage of the free app and the free resources on offer at asbestosawareness.com.au.
For more information on National Asbestos Awareness Week, visit asbestossafety.gov.au/naaw-2021.
SHAPE Minimum Standards app
App Store: Download
Google Play: Download