Workplace Health and Safety Queensland recently issued a safety alert about the potential presence of asbestos in Shantui forklifts imported from China.
The identified forklifts were imported to Queensland in 2013, and under statutory direction from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, the asbestos-containing components have been removed.
In 2019, WHSQ investigated asbestos in the Shantui forklift battery insulation and in the engine and hydraulic system gaskets.
Sample analysis results viewed as part of the investigation confirmed asbestos in the following Shantui branded forklifts, which were all imported to Australia from China in 2013:
While asbestos has been prohibited in Australia since December 2003, in some countries it is still used in manufactured products.
Certification of asbestos-free goods from some overseas manufacturers have been found not to meet Australian requirements.
The importation, manufacture, supply, sale and use or reuse of asbestos and asbestos-containing products is not permitted, except under very limited circumstances.
Some supplier countries may classify goods with low levels of asbestos as ‘asbestos-free’. In Australia, any level of asbestos is prohibited for import or use.
Analysis of the battery insulation material and the gaskets identified fibres of chrysotile asbestos.
The fibres are bonded to other material, and any risk from asbestos depends on the extent of asbestos fibre release and inhalation of these fibres, which can be caused by damage to the materials.
As the asbestos fibres are bonded to other material it does not pose a measurable health risk through normal use.
However, over time the materials may become damaged through wear and tear resulting in the asbestos fibres being less bonded.
“Therefore, you should not perform any maintenance, repairs or modifications on these parts as this may lead to asbestos contaminated dust being released. Compressed air should also not be used on or in the vicinity to these materials,” the safety alert said.
The alert recommended users and owners of the forklifts inspect the battery compartment of the 3-tonne Shantui forklift for the presence of fibrous battery insulation material.
If found, the forklifts should be isolated from use and a competent person trained in the identification and safe handling of asbestos (for example a Certified Occupational Hygienist, Licensed Asbestos Assessor or Licenced Asbestos Removalist) should be engaged to have a sample of the material analysed for the presence of asbestos.
The identified gaskets of the Shantui 3-tonne, 5-tonne and 7-tonne forklifts should be assumed to contain asbestos.
Components identified with asbestos must only be removed by a person who is competent to do so safely.
Although the testing results only confirm the presence of asbestos in these specific components, it is recommended that owners of imported forklifts generally assess for asbestos in other gaskets or components designed to resist heat.
Sampling and accredited testing should be seen as a viable method for the assessment of suspect components.