NECA is currently discussing the topic of ‘asbestos awareness’ with the ACT Office of Industrial Relations.
The ACT Office has alerted NECA to the unfortunate use of loose asbestos as ceiling insulation, which is creating a serious health issue in the ACT.
The prevalence of asbestos in the region is traced back to the sale of pure loose-fill asbestos from 1968 to 1978 predominantly by one local company (‘Mr Fluffy’) as ceiling insulation for residential and commercial premises. It is understood that the business responsible for installing loose-fill asbestos insulation operated across the ACT borders and into the adjoining regions of south-eastern New South Wales including Queanbeyan.
The recent removal of loose-fill asbestos in two northern Sydney homes and sale of a property in Queanbeyan, which advertised the presence of loose-fill asbestos insulation, provides evidence to suggest that loose fill asbestos insulation is still present to some extent across the country.
Given the health risks posed by asbestos, and in particular pure loose-fill asbestos, this particular brand of insulation commonly referred to as ‘Mr Fluffy’ is problematic because it is raw asbestos or mined asbestos, which is fibrous by nature and has been crushed into a fine state before being installed as insulation. When disturbed, the fibres can become airborne and are easily inhaled or ingested.
To tackle the problem of loose-fill asbestos in the ACT, the Commonwealth Government commenced a survey in 1988 of all Canberra houses built before 1980. A program was also announced to remove pure loose-fill asbestos insulation from affected Canberra homes at public expense.
Though the houses were cleaned to an extremely high standard with the inside roof and accessible wall cavities sealed using a PVA spray designed to encapsulate asbestos fibres, it is possible that some of these houses still retain residual asbestos fibres in inaccessible locations. The program was undertaken with the disclaimer that the Commonwealth could not give an undertaking there was no loose asbestos insulation in any quantity in any dwelling.
NECA advises electrical contractors working in older (pre-1980) buildings to first consult with the owner/occupiers as to the availability of an asbestos assessment report for the property. Non-availability of a report may point to the likely presence of asbestos. The contractors and their workers are also advised to wear P2 face filters, protective overalls and rubber gloves when drilling or cutting holes in panelling in such buildings. If they come across loose asbestos, they can take a sample for analysis using suitable PPE. Such holes must be taped closed, and the cut area, surrounds as well as tools wet-wiped, with the used wipes being double bagged for disposal. Work should continue only after the results are known.
NECA is incorporating the information specifically relating to the presence of loose asbestos insulation into their online training material. But contractors must be aware that building products with asbestos containing materials were utilised up to the late eighties and the use of chrysotile was only banned from 31 December 2003. The cessation of loose-fill asbestos, pre-1980 should not be confused with timeframes for other building products and ACMs.