While it is sometimes easy to see asbestos as a problem of the past, many small business owners can’t afford to do so.

Many people still die from diseases caused by the once-commonly-used building product, and the majority of them catch their illnesses through their occupation.

This gives employers both the moral and financial obligations to take a closer look at the risks involved when working around asbestos – even those companies that believe there is no threat to their workforce.

What is asbestos?

The material was commonly used during the housing booms between the 1940s and 80s – popular for its waterproof, light and fire-resistant characteristics. However, it was some years later when it was discovered to be a lead causer of certain cancers if dust from the fibrous substance was inhaled.

The most common of these are asbestosis and mesothelioma, both of which cause forms of lung cancer with painful symptoms and little chance of recovery.

It was in 1987 when manufacturing of asbestos ceased, though nationwide banning of its use did not come into play until 2003. Around a third of all houses built before 1987 used asbestos during the construction process, leaving a huge – and long-running – clean-up project at hand.

Even now, many homes still contain the material. Although there is much demand for removing it from existing property entirely, doing so is proving an almighty and expensive task, which leaves many people still at risk – homeowners and tradespeople alike.

This is why so many companies, large and small, need to protect themselves, and get all the advice they can when working in and around people’s homes.

What are the business-related threats of asbestos?

Throughout 2013, the Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR) had 575 notifications of new cases where people had contracted the illness. By May 2014, 38 per cent of these (218 people) had died, and nine in 10 of the fatalities were due to mesothelioma, showing the speed at which the disease works.

There are a great deal of Australians who ply their trade in other people’s homes – from painters to gardeners. Asbestos is not only present in wall cavities in loose-fill form, but around outside areas, where concrete asbestos was commonly used for sheds and outhouses.

By interviewing mesothelioma sufferers, the AMR got some insight into how people contracted the disease. Out of 350 respondents, 213 of them (60 per cent) were very believed to have been exposed to asbestos as part of their jobs.

The risks are very real, then, and it is up to employers to make sure their work environments are asbestos-free. For those who cannot ensure this, substantial thought needs to go into creating a work health and safety policy, as well as a robust level of financial protection.

How your insurance broker can help

Unfortunately, business owners need to plan for the worst, with an insurance policy that includes protection against bodily injury and harm among employees.

In particular, home services cover should be robust in what a policy protects against in terms of accident and workplace illness. Examples of business tasks that can find themselves exposed to the threat of asbestos include:

  • Cleaning services
  • Building maintenance
  • Fencing
  • Locksmithing
  • Painting
  • Paving
  • Pergola installation
  • Pest control
  • TV antenna repair

Small and micro businesses should also take care in this respect; if you are self employed, catching an illness – even one not as debilitating as asbestosis or mesothelioma – can severely affect your continuity.

If workplace injuries threaten your company’s everyday operations, personal accident insurance could be a consideration.

To learn more about protecting your workforce from some of the most prevalent threats with a tailor-made business insurance policy, contact your local MGA office and speak to a regional insurance specialist.