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New Asbestos Dangers in the Construction Industry

  • The ABC News recently reported on the rise in asbestos contamination in imported building products1 and the concern in the building industry, and with statutory authorities that this would lead to a new wave of asbestos related illnesses.
  • These circumstances follow hot on the heels of the issues raised about imported non-compliant building products which is now the subject of a Senate Inquiry.
  • The Senate Inquiry was a result of lobbying over the years by industry participants that came to a head after the fire in the non-conforming external cladding on the Lacrosse Tower in Melbourne.
  • The ABC report states that the Asbestos Verification Safety and Education Agency CEO, Peter Tighe, said he was aware of 64 sites where asbestos tainted concrete fibre sheeting has been used in construction. State workplace safety authorities are monitoring 17 sites in New South Wales, 13 in Queensland, 11 in South Australia and 8 in Victoria.

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Illegal Importation of “Asbestos Free” Products

  • Tighe states that the importation of asbestos is an emerging problem and it seems to be growing exponentially as more and more products are brought into Australia because of the wind down of manufacturing in this country.
  • Importing asbestos into Australia has been banned for more than a decade but the deadly substance is slipping into the country illegally from places like China in products often certified as “asbestos free”.
  • It is reported that in Adelaide a contractor used these material’s, which were imported from China, in the flooring of two electrical substations in South Australia and recent tests confirm that the materials contained white asbestos.
  • Tighe is also worried that workers will be unwittingly exposed to the new wave of asbestos as young trades people haven’t been trained to deal with these products as they think they’re “asbestos free”.
  • Senator Nick Xenophon has called for gaol terms for importers who fail to do everything possible to check and double check that the materials are asbestos free.
  • Xenophon has also called for certification of supply chains and for more scrutiny of overseas building products allowed, with greater penalties to address the issues.
  • The ABC reports that building products are not the only imports tainted with asbestos. With children’s crayons and car parts having also come under the scrutiny of the Australian Border Force (ABF).
  • The ABF has said that all cargo identified as high risk is physically examined. The Agency currently has a watch list of more than 40 products, importers and manufacturers. The ABF continues to engage with relevant Chinese agencies to enhance co-operation on border issues and shared concerns including the importation of asbestos.

Senate Inquiry

  • The Senate inquiry into non-conforming building products has not yet issued a report and it will be interesting to see what recommendations they make to address the continuing issue of non-compliant products. A report is expected by 16 March 2016.
  • In the meantime the Building Ministers from around the country met at a forum on the Gold Coast. The Commonwealth, State and territory ministers agreed to work co-operatively, to implement a suite of measures that will address safety issues associated with high-risk building products.2
  • The measures would improve the regulatory framework to enhance the powers of building regulators to respond to instances of non-conforming building products and education strategies would be developed to better inform consumers.
  • Builders were urged to safeguard their projects by using Australian made products that meet Australian standards.

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1 accessed 25/02/16.