Canberra builder dodges asbestos bullet thanks to quick thinking
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Canberra builder dodges asbestos bullet thanks to quick thinking

A Canberra builder has narrowly escaped asbestos exposure after his suspicions were aroused by an ultra-cheap plasterboard sourced by a client.

WorkSafe ACT Commissioner Mark McCabe said the builder was amazed to learn his client had shipped the sheets from Brisbane to Canberra for less than similar material could be bought locally.

ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe.

ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe.Credit:Rohan Thomson

On examining the sheets he felt they "weren't quite right" and had a sample tested. It came back positive for chrysotile asbestos. Preliminary investigations indicate the material was shipped to Australia from China.

"The client has tried to save money [on his fit-out] by sourcing materials as cheaply as possible," Mr McCabe said. "It has come back to bite him; the material is forfeit, he has questions to answer and it is very lucky that the builder, the builder's staff and even the client weren't exposed to asbestos."

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Mr McCabe said while this material had been sourced through an Australian supplier, the case highlighted the dangers of shopping for the cheapest possible building products on the internet.

"Safety standards often differ from country to country, so it is crucial to check that the products you are ordering are acceptable for use in Australia and the ACT."

The extremely low price should have been a red flag.

"As a general rule if a price seems too good to be true then that is probably the case," he said.

"While we don't know the exact quantity [in this case], a further supply of the material had been stored in an off-site unit. That also tested positive for asbestos. A prohibition notice has since been issued to secure the area and restrict access."

Mr McCabe said that with online trading growing in popularity at an ever-increasing rate, the risk that owners, builders and other tradespeople would be put in harm's way was very real.

"While individual incidents may not involve a large quantity of material, a large number of incidents will, over time, add up to a lot of exposure."

Mr McCabe said his office would work closely with WorkCover Queensland to nip the further distribution of the contaminated product that was discovered in Canberra in the bud.

"The Brisbane supplier, who may well have been told the material was compliant, could have sent this all over the country," he said.

Mr McCabe said that tiles, especially ornate and decorative examples sourced directly from overseas, represented a significant risk.

"One of the more common scenarios has involved the importation of tiles from some Chinese suppliers," he said.

David Ellery is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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