Asbestos awareness remains high on the agenda for roofing experts

by FM Media
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Although asbestos is not used in building materials today, asbestos products weren’t banned in Australia until 2003. In the past, asbestos was commonly used for roofs, in particular, due to its fire resistant and durable nature.

Since asbestos-reinforced roofing can last for over three decades, many buildings that were originally constructed with asbestos roofing have the same roofs today.

While asbestos isn’t dangerous unless airborne, property or facility managers should never try to touch or replace asbestos-containing products on their own. Only asbestos specialists should handle asbestos-containing materials because they can cause major health risks if not treated properly.

As your roof plays such an important sheltering role, and because it encompasses such as large area, any harmful materials released in the area will have a wide impact.

If you think you may have asbestos in your roof, here are some things you need to know:

Many property or facility managers won’t recognise asbestos when they see it. If you think the materials that make up your roof could potentially contain asbestos, such as building materials from the 1980s or earlier, never attempt to touch or remove them.

If you know the manufacturer, it is advisable to contact them to learn which materials make up your roof, but the only way to know for sure if a material contains asbestos is to call an asbestos specialist.

The asbestos specialist will likely send a sample of the potential asbestos-containing materials to the National Association of Testing Authorities. This analytical laboratory will determine if the material contains asbestos. Common roofing materials that may contain asbestos include concrete, asphalt and gypsum.

If the material does contain asbestos, the specialist will assess whether the material should be removed or replaced. Until it is certain that a building does not contain asbestos, do not perform any renovations, demolitions or maintenance.


How you should deal with asbestos depends on where you find the asbestos and what condition the asbestos is in. Most buildings aren’t affected by asbestos unless it becomes airborne. If the material is friable, the asbestos could quickly become airborne and cause health risks. Non-friable asbestos won’t pose a health risk unless the material is cut, sanded or sawn.

If a roof is in a solid state, it may not need to be removed at all. Non-damaged asbestos material doesn’t pose a health hazard. However, the materials will need to be monitored for signs of deterioration or damage. If a material containing asbestos is damaged, call a removal specialist immediately.

Sometimes damaged asbestos materials may not need to be removed, with isolation or repair also considerations. For instance, an asbestos specialist can likely repair a small tear in the flashing or underlayment. However, repairing or isolating asbestos are only temporary solutions. Natural weathering and ageing will eventually cause damage to asbestos.

If the asbestos specialist determines that the roof poses too great a threat to those inhabiting a building, they will likely recommend removing it. Once the specialist removes the asbestos from your property, he or she should take an air sample to ensure the building doesn’t contain airborne asbestos. The roof can then be replaced with a modern version that doesn’t contain carcinogens.

Written by Christian Wright, who is a director of ACR Roofing, a roof replacement company in Melbourne.

This article also appears in the December/January issue of Facility Management magazine.

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