The WA Government has recently issued a Safety Alert in relation to the use of high pressure water cleaning of asbestos fibre cement products.
1 What are We Talking About?
Asbestos products were widely used throughout the WA construction industry pre 1983 and it is best to assume that any property constructed prior to this date will contain asbestos. Some might argue that some imported products post this date may also contain asbestos.
While correctly identifying an asbestos cement product is best done via a laboratory, there are some asbestos products such as roof sheeting, fencing and wall/eaves panelling which have some unique product characteristics of asbestos which may potentially facilitate the initial identification. However, there are some older pre 1983 products such as some insulation, linoleum and linings where identification of asbestos can be very difficult without laboratory testing.
The use of asbestos based products across WA was extensive and these products still exist in many properties today. Where the asbestos product is appropriately maintained, it can continue to be used.
2 What’s the Issue?
Protecting and sealing asbestos products to extend their useful life is an often used strategy. There are paints and sealers available that will effectively seal products like asbestos roofs and fences potentially extending their residual life.
The challenge is the cleaning of these asbestos products pre the application of the sealer or paint. WorkSafe, a part of the WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulations and Safety advises that high pressure water cleaning of asbestos cement material is prohibited.
People seeking to paint asbestos cement material such as roof sheeting that needs to be cleaned prior to painting can only use non-abrasive preparation techniques such as the use of cleaning solutions that can be applied and washed off with low pressure water.
WorkSafe is investigating an incident where a registered painter used a high pressure water cleaner on an asbestos cement roof to prepare it for painting. This resulted in the property and neighbouring properties being contaminated by asbestos.
Cleaning up properties contaminated by asbestos residue from high pressure water cleaning of asbestos cement material is a very expensive process. Clean-up costs of between $7,000 and $50,000 have been reported.
The use of high pressure water on asbestos cement material is prohibited under Regulation 5.14 and Schedule 5.2 of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996. It is also prohibited under the Health (Asbestos) Regulations 1992 administered by local government authorities.
3 Key Contributing Factors
- Using high pressure water cleaners on asbestos cement breaks down the surface of the material, and spreads asbestos-containing residue over a wide area, including neighbouring properties.
- The asbestos residue that is dispersed as a result of the cleaning is considered friable and easily releases respirable asbestos fibres which pose a significant risk to health.
- Local Government Authorities can declare affected properties to be contaminated under the Contaminated Sites Act 2003. This Act imposes additional requirements for cleaning up asbestos-contaminated soil.
- Asbestos-containing residue from high pressure cleaning of asbestos cement must be cleaned up by an asbestos removalist holding an unrestricted licence. There are also requirements for collection and testing of samples from affected areas to ensure affected properties have been adequately cleaned up.
- Workers engaged to paint asbestos cement surfaces may have been inadequately trained in identification of asbestos containing materials and appropriate safe work methods for cleaning and painting such materials.
4 In Summary
Asbestos was used within the WA construction industry for many years and can still be found in a large number of properties in WA.
It is critical that these products are appropriately maintained so as to ensure the asbestos fibres are not dispersed.
It is important to seek professional advice when maintaining asbestos products. As alerted to above, there are regulatory restrictions on how asbestos can be cleaned.
5 Need More Information?
Read for a link to the Government Publication Here.
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