Home owners have been exposed to dangerous crumbling asbestos after an error in guidelines supposed to make houses and businesses safe.
State Government guidelines have reclassified low density fibre board, LDB, from a “high risk” friable asbestos product to a bonded one, making it far cheaper to remove but, industry groups say, ignoring how much more dangerous it is to handle.
Low density fibre board, which is still classified as friable in NSW and other states breaks apart easily when disturbed, releasing dangerous fibres.
LDB was used extensively throughout Queensland prior to 1983. Hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings, including thousands of schools and public buildings, have LDB.
Asbestosis victim and Asbestos Related Disease Support Society secretary Ray Colbert said the government was acting against longstanding policies.
“It’s totally crazy. There are going to be more people exposed and a greater contamination of the work sites,” he said.
“We have major concerns.”
Requests for interviews with Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie and his Workplace Health and Safety Queensland policy adviser Paul Goldsbrough were declined.
A spokeswoman for Mr Bleijie provided a statement saying the minister took managing asbestos “very seriously,” was consulting with stakeholders, and wanted policy consistent with other states.
Reclassification makes removing LDB cheaper by dropping most of the worksite safeguards, including use of special equipment, training and air filtering and monitoring.
It also makes it easier for low-cost contractors to undercut experienced asbestos firms on tenders.
The State Government says the guidelines were changed in error and would be corrected.
Andrew Ramsey, workplace health and safety co-ordinator for the Queensland CFMEU, said “watering down” asbestos regulations was “just crazy” at a time when they should maintained or increased.
“They are messing with people’s lives,” he said. “People working with asbestos can be lured into a false sense of security.
“It’s not something that belts you in the ear right away. It sneaks up on you. It’s not a good way to die.”
Michael Shepherd, president of the Asbestos Industry Association, said his members were blindsided several months ago when the classification changed on its website and in published materials.
“We have been trying to work with the government to get them to understand but we’re getting stonewalled. They’re not responsive,” he said.
Trevor Lyons, president of DRACA, the Demolishers, Recyclers & Asbestos Contractors Association, branded the change “narrow minded” and said Queensland had no reason to treat the removal of LDB differently from other states. There was no question it was friable.
“A lot of that LDB is very easy to crumble and release fibres. There should be no variations of classification from state to state,” he said.
“They already deemed it dangerous. They can’t backtrack now.”
Even when workers take great care not to break the asbestos boards, it can’t be removed without breaking.
“There’s always a per cent of breakage and damage to the sheet,” he said.
“It can’t be avoided. Fibres get released.”
Air testing conducted during LCD removal jobs showed up to 500,000 fibres per cubic metre of air being released, well above the reportable level. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos fibre.
Mr Ramsey said there was “no consultation at all” with the union prior. The old LDB classification “mysteriously dropped out one day” from the government website.
Workers with only a B class licence would be able to remove LDB in without fully enclosing the contaminated area, using machines to suck up fibres, and conducting air testing to check fibre levels. Workers also do not have to wear highly protective respirators or undergo a five-stage decontamination shower.
Without air testing, high asbestos fibre readings no longer have to be reported to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.
Home owners also can remove up to 10 cubic metres of LDB from their homes without a licence.
Sourced from the Courier Mail