The survey of Australian trades workers who sand, cut, and drill asbestos-containing sheets found many do not adequately protect themselves.

Many Australian Tradesmen Handling Asbestos Improperly

A study done for Safe Work Australia also showed that many in the country's trades do not follow standard safety precautions to protect themselves against exposure to asbestos fibers.

Safe Work Australia released a study Feb. 15 that indicates many Australian tradesmen do not comply with basic precautions to protect themselves and others against exposure to asbestos fibers as they work. Eighty-five percent of the trades members who were surveyed by Barry Pratt & Associates Pty Ltd. are self-employed. Most of them were aware of the potential health risks of asbestos, but many did not know how to recognize asbestos or control the risks when working with it. Few work premises had labeled materials or areas containing asbestos, the survey found.

While almost all workers surveyed "thought they could protect themselves from the risk of asbestos, . . . the overall level of compliance with safety procedures was much lower than was estimated by these workers," according to the report, which said 41 percent of the respondents said they inappropriately dispose of asbestos and contaminated materials. Fortunately, atmospheric monitoring of a limited number of selected work tasks showed that all exposures were below the current Workplace Exposure Standard. The use of asbestos has been banned in Australia since 2003, but many older building contain the material.

"It is concerning that although tradespeople have a high level of awareness and confidence in being able to protect themselves, this is not matched with the use of necessary safety precautions when working with asbestos," Safe Work Australia Chair Tom Phillips said when he released the 86-page report, "Asbestos Exposure and Compliance Study of Construction and Maintenance Workers."

"The results of this study will be used to inform effective strategies to eliminate, or reduce, worker exposure to asbestos," Phlllips said. "Local, state, and federal governments must work together to improve worker education and information on asbestos, particularly the development of practical advice on how workers can protect themselves from exposure to asbestos, and on safe asbestos removal and disposal. This will help to reduce both individual suffering and the substantial cost to families and the community."

Respondents were asked what they do with their respirators/dust masks when their work with asbestos-containing materials is done. More than half (32 of 56 respondents) said they throw it away with ordinary waste, and 7 percent said they reuse it. Only 36 percent said they dispose of it along with asbestos waste.

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