Australians playing ‘renovation roulette’ by not understanding asbestos

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Australians should build their awareness of where asbestos-containing products might be located and how to safely manage them or risk playing a game of ‘renovation roulette’, according to the Asbestos Education Committee.

As part of asbestos awareness month in November, the Asbestos Education Committee, working in partnership with the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute and supported by the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities, is educating facility managers, building owners, renovators and tradespeople about the dangers of asbestos.

Australia used to be one of the largest consumers of asbestos-containing materials in the world, with products still found in one-in-three brick, weatherboard, fibro or clad structures built or renovated before 1987.

According to the Asbestos Education Committee, asbestos was used in the manufacture of a broad range of products.

“It could be anywhere. Under floor coverings including carpets, linoleum and vinyl tiles, behind wall and floor tiles, in cement floors, internal and external walls, ceilings and ceiling space (insulation), eaves, garages, roofs, around hot water pipes, fences, extensions to homes, garages, outdoor toilets, backyard and farm structures, chook sheds and even dog kennels,” the Committee states.

“Without knowing where these types of asbestos-containing products might be located or how to manage and dispose of asbestos safely, Australians play a risky game of ‘renovation roulette’ if they disturb asbestos-containing materials and release fibres that can be inhaled which may cause asbestos-related diseases including malignant mesothelioma.”

ACR Roofing director Christian Wright, who is experienced in the management and removal of asbestos from building roofs, says asbestos-reinforced roofing can last for more than three decades.

ACR Roofing director Christian Wright.

ACR Roofing director Christian Wright.

“Many buildings that were originally constructed with asbestos roofing have the same roofs today,” Wright tells Facility Management.

“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 experts should handle asbestos-containing materials because they can cause major health risks if not treated properly.”

Melbourne-based ACR Roofing regularly removes asbestos from the roofs of commercial and industrial buildings, including for Kings Storage in Thomastown, Victoria (pictured, top). The company uses specialist asbestos removal equipment and meets both Worksafe and Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) standards for all removal projects.

According to Wright, by removing asbestos it will increase the value of the property, ensure no asbestos related illness occurs to staff or visitors, safeguard collected tank rainwater from contamination, stop airborne asbestos fibres from floating around the property, and remove unnecessary weight from the building.

However, Wright says most property or facility managers will not recognise asbestos when they see it and they should contact an expert to confirm its presence.

“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,” says Wright.

“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 that a material contains asbestos is to call an asbestos specialist.”

To improve your awareness of asbestos, visit: asbestosawareness.com.au

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