A Port Pirie-based union warns that “one fibre can kill” and is calling for a more co-ordinated approach to controlling imports of asbestos-laden equipment.
The Australian Workers Union spoke after an incident at Port Pirie last year when heat exchangers contaminated by the material were unloaded at the port.
The heat exchangers, “as big as a bus”, were identified as having problems by a sharp-eyed worker, according to state union secretary Peter Lamps.
He said the manufacturer in China had claimed there was no asbestos contamination.
“Asbestos is a dangerous item and yet it is still managing to get into this country in significant amounts,” he said.
“It will affect the nation for the next 50 or 60 years. Buildings still are laced with asbestos. We have people renovating homes at weekends who are still coming across it.
“Many state and federal regulators and agencies say co-ordination is difficult.
“We see with respect to importation of asbestos, regulation needs to be co-ordinated.”
Mr Lamps and Port Pirie branch organiser Mick Hopgood were in Adelaide to make the union’s submission to a Senate inquiry into the effects of non-conforming building products on the construction industry.
They called for an intensified role for the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency as well as strong penalties for breaches. The union wants to see a “whole of government” approach to the problem and warned of weakened confidence in regulators.
Mr Lamps said the asbestos-contaminated heat exchangers had arrived in Port Pirie by ship and were installed.
He said the fibres were found in lagging as a result of “the keen eyes of a worker or workers”.
“The company relied on certificates from the Chinese manufacturer that it was asbestos-free,” he said. “It has been accepted there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. One fibre can kill.
“It is telling that we have had a banned substance for some time, but as a nation we are still finding it in so many places.”