National Asbestos Awareness Week
November 23-29 is national Asbestos Awareness Week, which aims to educate Australians about the dangers of asbestos in and around homes, because Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos-related diseases in the world.
According to asbestosawareness.com.au (external link) — where you’ll find many practical resources for both tradies and DIY home renovators — many people wrongly believe that only fibro homes contain asbestos. It’s vital that Australians take the warnings seriously, that they stop playing ‘renovation roulette’ and protect themselves and their families from exposure to asbestos fibres during renovations and maintenance.
Where asbestos is found
If a house, garage, shed or commercial building was built or renovated before the 1990s, it probably contains some form of asbestos.
Asbestos was added to over 3,000 products, including (but not limited to) those used in home areas commonly renovated or repaired:
- under vinyl floors, behind tiles and in carpet underlay
- carports, sheds and outbuildings
- electrical meter boxes
- guttering, downpipes and roof sheeting.
As a general guide, if a house/building was built:
- before the mid-1980s: it’s highly likely it contains some asbestos products
- between the mid-1980s and 1990: it’s likely it would contain asbestos
- after 1990: it’s unlikely it would contain asbestos.
If you are unsure whether your building contains asbestos you can ask a licensed asbestos assessor or removalist for advice.
With many Australian homes and buildings containing asbestos, whether you’re a workplace/tradesperson or a DIY renovator, you’re likely to come across asbestos — and exposure could affect your health.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen.
Disturbing any amount of asbestos can release fibres into the air. These could be inhaled or swallowed, which may lead to diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma in later years.
Even limited or short-term exposure to asbestos fibres can be dangerous.
And even people who haven’t worked with asbestos could get an asbestos disease. We’re now seeing people exposed to it through activities such as home renovations suffering from these diseases.
Asbestos safety for workplaces/tradespeople
If you’re doing renovations, repairs or building work, it’s important to first know whether asbestos may be present and how to deal with it safely.
- For houses (including garages, sheds and outbuildings): you should make sure any asbestos is identified and if possible, have it removed by a licensed asbestos removalist. See Removing asbestos below.
- For non-residential buildings: ask the person with management or control for a copy of the asbestos register before you start work. If there’s no register, make sure the building is inspected to determine if any asbestos is present — or simply assume it is present. See Removing asbestos below.
Asbestos safety for DIY renovators
If you’re planning home renovations, it’s important to first know whether asbestos may be present and how to deal with it safely. See Getting an asbestos survey below.
It’s not mandatory for building inspection reports to identify asbestos. The seller is not obliged to tell you if the house contains asbestos, either.
Getting an asbestos survey
If you’re unsure whether your home or the building you’re working on contains asbestos, an asbestos survey will help you learn its location and condition, and give guidance on how to manage the risk.
It’s important that a survey be conducted before you start work to avoid disturbing any asbestos containing material.
It’s recommended that you engage an experienced asbestos assessor to conduct an asbestos survey to identify any potential asbestos materials.
See Resources below for a detailed fact sheet on asbestos surveys and to find an licensed asbestos assessor in Tasmania.
If asbestos is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed, it can be left in place and monitored over time.
However, if asbestos is in poor condition or is likely to be damaged or disturbed during renovations, it should be removed.
Removal requirements depend on the type and amount of asbestos containing material present.
See Resources below to find a licensed asbestos removalist in Tasmania.
National protocol for importing asbestos material
WorkSafe Tasmania has endorsed the national Rapid Response Protocol, which aims to:
- provide a consistent approach to the risk assessment and treatment of asbestos containing materials identified in Australia
- reflect the expectations of the government and community.