The use of asbestos has been banned in Australia since 2003. However, as a result of the widespread use of asbestos in the past, there remains a large amount of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in older buildings. These ACMs include asbestos cement sheet walls, asbestos cement pipes and asbestos containing electrical switchboards.
Construction and maintenance workers are likely to be involved in work tasks that may disturb ACMs. Therefore, there is a substantial risk of potential exposure to asbestos in these workers unless occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements on the management and control of asbestos are followed. To date, little research has been undertaken on these tradespersons and their awareness and compliance with OHS regulations relating to asbestos.
The aims of the current study were to determine in construction and maintenance workers:
- current levels of awareness of the risk of exposure to asbestos
- current levels of compliance with OHS legislative requirements for working with ACMs
- key perceptions, attitudes and motivations that act as barriers and enablers to compliance, and
- current level of exposure to asbestos in selected construction and maintenance work activities.
This study was conducted in five stages: 1) literature review; 2) focus groups with workers, employer organisations, unions and OHS authorities; 3) telephone survey of workers; 4) face-to-face interviews; and 5) atmospheric sampling. Four trades were selected as target occupations for this study: electricians, plumbers, carpenters and painters.