Asbestos Problem: Health Effects of Asbestos Exposure in Australia

For more than a century, the industrial sector has been using asbestos for different applications. Asbestos is a fibre-like silicate material that often mixed with cement. It is used for construction, mining and manufacturing. Materials that contain asbestos include concrete framework, fencing, glue, insulation products and wall sheeting, among others. While the industrial sector needs asbestos, it has a severe impact on the health of exposed labourers: mesothelioma.

Asbestos Exposure

When broken into tiny pieces, asbestos can produce dust. Miners, carpentersand painters might inhale or swallow the asbestos fibres. These, then, settle in the lungs or stomach, causing irritation and potentially leading to mesothelioma.

For decades, Australian industrial labourers have been at risk of asbestos exposure. According to The Mesothelioma Center, from the 50’s to the 70’s, the country recorded the highest per capita rate of asbestos use globally.

Dangers of Asbestos

The World Health Organization states that all types of asbestos are carcinogenic. They can cause lung cancer, cancer of the larynx and ovarian cancer. But the most ’70s condition that has been consistently linked to asbestos exposure is mesothelioma.

Malignant mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose, mainly because the symptoms appear ten to 50 years following initial exposure to asbestos. The symptoms include coughing, fever, weight loss, chest pain and fatigue. Cancer occurs on the tissues that cover a person’s internal organs, like lungs and stomach. It’s aggressive, and by far, there is no cure for it.

Asbestos Death Tolls in Australia

In 2017, according to the most recent figures provided by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there were two cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each day across the country. That amounts to 700 cases that year alone. Furthermore, Australia has the second-highest mesothelioma-related death cases globally, second only to the United Kingdom.

Three years before this, The Mesothelioma Center reported, 641 Australians died from mesothelioma. Approximately 80 per cent of these deaths involved men and affected those who were between 70 and 79 years old. The age of death could be proof of the delayed manifestation of the effects of asbestos exposure.  

Minimising Asbestos Exposure in the Workplace

There are measures workers and employers can take to minimise asbestos exposure, and these should be aligned with Safe Work Australia’s Code of Practice regarding asbestos-containing materials (ACM) in the workplace. Some of the things that can be found in the Code of Practice are:

  • Identification of ACM in the workplace through signs and labels
  • Detailed procedures on dealing with asbestos-related accidents, incidents and emergencies
  • Training and consultations for workers working with ACM
  • Developing asbestos management plans, which include management of naturally-occurring asbestos
  • Risk elimination by ACM isolation through barriers
  • Implementation of workplace safety, e.g., wearing of suitable personal protective equipment
  • Proper disposal and transportation of ACM

Here is a link for complete information about the government’s recommended management plans for asbestos exposure in the workplace.

In the mining, construction and home remodelling industries, asbestos is a common material that is used. The material is dangerous and potentially fatal. That is why companies and employees should make extra efforts to protect themselves from asbestos exposure.

For better control, it’s best to hire a professional asbestos removal company operating in Perth. Doing so helps you make sure that proper procedures are done. Talk to us for questions about our services.