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The Return of Mr Fluffy – Highly friable asbestos identified

on 02 Jun 2014 1:48 PM
Blog Category: Safety Blog

It is hard to associate a name like Mr Fluffy with something as sinister as asbestos. Mr Fluffy was the trading name of the company responsible for insulating over 1000 ACT homes with a highly friable form of crocidolite (blue) asbestos – the most toxic form of asbestos.

The problem has resurfaced with reports in the Canberra Times of friable asbestos insulation remnants identified in houses from which these materials had supposedly been removed.

The insulation, originally installed by the infamous Mr Fluffy during the 1950s and '60s, was reported to be unique in that it was 100 per cent loose fibre which is a particularly dangerous (highly friable) form. The residual asbestos was widespread amongst the tested homes with 25 out of 30 Canberra homes checked by one assessing organisation testing positive.

These reports may come as a surprise to those of us that have become familiar with current friable asbestos removal by Class A asbestos removalists as required by OHS/WHS Regulations with:

But should this discovery come as a surprise when we examine the removal practises likely to have been employed between 1988 and 1993? At this time, the sophisticated equipment, techniques and systems we have now were available and being employed by proficient asbestos removalists.

What was different was that removal was less strictly regulated. One aspect in particular, the requirement for an independent competent person to conduct a clearance inspection and sign off on there being no visible asbestos remaining (subject to the scope of works) was not a requirement at that time.

This “clearance inspection” plays a major role in asbestos removal quality control. The requirement for a clearance, often done by the competent person that carried out the pre removal inspection to identify the asbestos materials, puts the removalist on notice that all visible materials must be eliminated.

Even so, it is no rarity to identify material remaining after removal. Unfortunately, when a clearance is overlooked, remaining materials can return to haunt the occupants - like Mr Fluffy’s toxic legacy in the ACT.

Another factor may have been the scale and timing of the federal government’s $100 million asbestos removal programme to eliminate Mr Fluffy’s handiwork from over 1050 Canberra homes. We know from recent government run insulation programmes that political pressure can produce:

Calls for the eradication of asbestos by politically driven timelines continue to emerge and the people who launch these ideas into space seem to never consult the industry.

Professional asbestos removalists will inform you that this type of programme will produce a short term, unsustainable demand and the skill vacuum created will be filled by less experienced, less competent contractors with the inevitable problems. Sound familiar?

According to the Canberra Times, the Asbestos Safety Eradication Agency has called for the demolition of Mr Fluffy’s asbestos insulated homes; a claim that has been dismissed by the ACT Attorney General, Simon Corbell as “prohibitively expensive and unnecessary”. If every home costs $500,000 to demolish and rebuild, the entire programme will cost over $500 million. Winston Churchill has been credited with saying, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Enough said.

With extensive experience and a commitment to ongoing research, JTA Safety’s knowledge base covers all aspects of dealing with asbestos and how to manage it properly, safely and in compliance with state legislation. Give us a call on 1300 856 282 if you need some assistance.

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