Disaster Strikes! What Now?

The onset of a natural disaster is always a time of chaos and pandemonium. Whilst issues such as medical care, food, electricity, safety and shelter are often at the forefront of people’s minds, something which is often overlooked is the management of asbestos. Regardless, it is worth considering what best management practices comprise of when dealing with asbestos because otherwise there may be dire consequences in years to come if overlooked.

One of the primary risks to be aware of is the likelihood that events such as earthquakes, cyclones, floods and fires can release asbestos containing fibres. This is because asbestos material which was previously bonded (i.e. the asbestos fibres are held within another material), has been broken, thus releasing the friable fibres and creating a serious health hazard.

The New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has published a helpful set of guidelines in helping to assess what an acceptable level of risk is when dealing with asbestos and corresponding safety practices. While this has been specifically designed for the New Zealand context, with the threat of post-earthquake risk, the principles remain the same.

What is the acceptable risk?

Category

Work/Task

Safe Practice

Critical action
(in the event of further damage)
  • The immediate actions required to preserve life.
  • Rescuing people
  • Wear a dust mask if one is immediately available.
  • Bag and dispose of clothing.
  • Shower.
Urgent Work
  • Making structures safe
  • Demolition is needed to make a structure safe and to prevent imminent risk of harm to people in the vicinity.
  • The debris is unstable and susceptible to earthquake aftershocks, land subsidence or flooding.
  • Removing rubble
  • Asbestos dust from rubble cannot be easily managed other than by prompt removal of the rubble from a populated area.
  • Debris is obstructing essential infrastructure requiring prompt removal of the debris.
  • The testing of debris to confirm asbestos is not essential. Pragmatic decisions can be made based on the age and construction of the buildings/structures. If in doubt treat as if it contains asbestos.
  • Dampen down rubble before disturbing.
  • Use the best dust mask or respirator you can get.
  • Bag dusty overalls before removing mask.
  • Shower after work.
Non-Urgent
  • Clearing sites safely
  • Damage has been done but the site is stable
  • Debris may include asbestos but is contained on the site.
  • Full application of asbestos management guidelines is required including testing for asbestos.

Source:  http://www.dol.govt.nz/quake/asbestos-management.asp

Evidently, different levels of risk are deemed acceptable if engaged in life-threatening recovery situations when compared to non-urgent rubble clean-up. As it can be difficult to know the history of a building and whether asbestos was indeed present, it is important to involve experienced occupational hygienists who are able to inspect and assess the situation and create a targeted asbestos management plan.

NSW

A.D. Envirotech Australia Pty Ltd – Head Office
Unit 6/7 Millennium Ct.,
Silverwater, NSW, 2128, Australia
(02) 8541 7214
info@adenvirotech.com.au

A.D. Envirotech Australia Pty Ltd – Laboratory
4/10-11 Millennium Ct
Silverwater, NSW, 2128, Australia
(02) 9648 6669

QLD

A. D. Envirotech Australia Pty Ltd (ADE)
PO Box 288
Upper Coomera LPO,
QLD, 4209 Australia
(07) 5519 4610
info@adenvirotech.com.au

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