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Update on concerns about asbestos in telecommunications pits

There have been several reports in the media recently of poor work health and safety practices in the handling of asbestos in telecommunication pits across the country. These pits are designated as federal workplaces.

Comcare is responding to these concerns by:

  • ensuring employers and contractors are improving supervision arrangements and are complying with the law
  • increasing site inspections to ensure safety standards are being met in the removal and disposal of asbestos and that these places are safe for workers and the public
  • co-ordinating a series of national inspections with work health and safety authorities in each state and territory—focusing on planned stages of the asbestos remediation programs in the NBN roll-out
  • connecting our work with the Office of Asbestos Safety.

Comcare will take enforcement action if there is any breach of the law.

For information and advice on asbestos related concerns within the federal jurisdiction please contact the asbestos hotline on 1800 888 468 between 8.30 am and 5.00 pm (AEST).

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Comcare’s role in relation to asbestos

Comcare undertakes several roles in relation to asbestos and exposure to asbestos including:

Refer to asbestos-related claims for further information.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral that was widely used in building materials up to 1987. It is commonly found in materials such as:

  • roofing, shingles and siding
  • fencing
  • exterior wall cladding
  • backing material on floor tiles and vinyl flooring
  • textured paints
  • water or flue pipes
  • bathrooms
  • interior walls
  • eaves.

When such materials are left undisturbed they are relatively harmless. Asbestos becomes a hazard when microscopic fibre fragments become airborne and are inhaled.

Asbestos risks and diseases

People who become ill from asbestos are usually those who are exposed to airborne fibres on a regular basis, most often in a job where they work directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact. It is clear that the health risks from asbestos exposure increase with heavier exposure and longer exposure time. Despite this, asbestos-related diseases have been found in individuals with only brief exposures. Diseases may develop many years after exposure.

Asbestos is classified as a substance that causes cancer (known as a carcinogen). Exposure to asbestos may increase the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma. Although rare, mesothelioma is the most common form of cancer associated with asbestos exposure.

Page last updated: 08 Sep 2014