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Safety alert - Asbestos in empty sea containers

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Purpose

This safety alert provides information regarding asbestos in empty sea containers.

Background

In January 2017, WorkSafe Western Australia became aware that a number of empty sea containers had come into Fremantle port contaminated with raw chrysotile (white asbestos). The friable asbestos was present within the sea containers and also in and around the vents (Figure 1).

White asbestos found in a sea container
Photo: White asbestos found in a sea container

The sea containers had previously been used to transport raw mined asbestos internationally.

The sea containers were inspected and maintained as per normal practice, however, identification of the asbestos contamination was delayed as systems were not in place. As a result two of the sea containers were processed and packed with goods. One of these was recalled unopened, however the other had already been shipped.

Contributing factors

While asbestos has been a prohibited product in Australia since December 2003, some countries still mine asbestos and manufacture products that contain asbestos. Certification provided to importers from overseas manufacturers that goods are asbestos-free have sometimes found to be wrong for the purposes of our regulations.

Sea containers are used to transport raw mined asbestos to countries that continue to use asbestos in manufacturing processes. Empty sea containers are regularly transported to Australia for further use. Many countries do not have strict quarantine laws. As a result sea containers may not be cleaned prior to arrival into Australia and may be contaminated.

Workers may have difficulty visually identifying asbestos.

Action required

  1. If involved in international shipping, ensure that your company has systems in place to identify possible asbestos contamination of sea containers.
  2. Ensure that your workers are informed and trained on this system so that early detection is possible.
  3. Have suspect material tested by a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited laboratory.
  4. Notify Workplace Health and Safety Queensland if asbestos is found

Risk control

If the asbestos materials are to be removed, it is important that they are removed by a person who is competent to do it safely. Appendix E of the How to manage and control asbestos in the workplace Code of Practice 2011 provides an example of a “working with asbestos friction materials” safe work method that can be used, including appropriate personal protective equipment, decontamination and disposal of the asbestos waste. This code of practice can be found at worksafe.qld.gov.au.

Importers should be aware of the varying definitions and standards applied in the country of origin and/or supply. Australian regulations apply at the border.

The importer must ensure they do not import asbestos materials into Australia and suppliers must not supply asbestos materials. Both imports and suppliers must obtain testing certification that the goods are asbestos-free

Importers should be familiar with the information on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection asbestos webpage.

To reduce the risk of importing or supplying products containing asbestos, read the fact sheet Preventing goods or materials containing asbestos being supplied to workplaces in Queensland. This includes:

  • how the importation of asbestos is regulated at the Australian border and the products at particular risk of containing asbestos
  • what businesses must do to ensure imported products do not contain asbestos
  • types of verifications that exist for Australian importers or consumers to show imported materials do not contain asbestos
  • acceptable standards for testing if materials contain asbestos.

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