When it comes to renovating old structures, especially in Australia, a pervasive threat remains hidden in walls, floors, and ceilings – asbestos.
This article aims to elucidate the dangers associated with asbestos during a renovation project and offers guidance on mitigating these risks to safeguard everyone involved.
Before delving into the specifics of its dangers during renovations, it’s important to understand what asbestos is and its historical significance in Australia.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals that were once widely praised for their heat resistance, tensile strength, and insulating properties.
Its fibrous composition and the resultant ability to be woven made it a popular material in numerous industrial applications.
The History of Asbestos Use in Australia
Australia was one of the largest users of asbestos globally during the 20th century, extensively used in construction, shipbuilding, and insulation manufacturing industries.
Until the late 1980s, asbestos was regularly utilised in home-building materials, making it a significant concern in Australian homes today.
Types of Asbestos Found in Australia
There are two main types of asbestos – serpentine (Chrysotile or white asbestos) and amphibole.
The latter category includes several kinds, such as amosite, crocidolite (also known as blue asbestos), and others. Each type carries its unique set of health risks.
The Link Between Asbestos and Health Risks
When asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, they can release microscopic fibres into the air. If inhaled, these fibres can lead to serious health risks.
Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Perhaps the most well-known health risk associated with asbestos exposure is Mesothelioma, a lethal form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen.
Long-term exposure to asbestos fibres without proper protective equipment can lead to the development of this incurable disease.
Other Health Risks Associated with Asbestos Exposure
Besides Mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos can also cause lung cancer, asbestosis (a progressive and long-term lung disease), and other non-malignant lung and pleural disorders.
These health issues underscore the gravity of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos in Australian Homes
Many Australian homes built before the late 1980s are likely to contain asbestos in some form.
Where Can Asbestos Be Found in Homes?
Asbestos can be found in various areas within the home, including roofing, wall and floor claddings, insulation, pipes, and more. In short, it can be almost anywhere, making it a tricky issue during renovations.
Identifying Asbestos in Your Home
Given the widespread use of asbestos, identifying it can be challenging. Unless the material is labelled as containing asbestos, microscopic analysis is usually necessary for identification.
This is a task best left to the professionals due to the health risks involved in handling asbestos-containing materials.
The Dangers of Asbestos During Renovations
Renovations can be a significant trigger for the release of asbestos fibres if not handled correctly.
How Renovations Can Disturb Asbestos
Renovation activities such as demolition, cutting, drilling or sanding can disturb asbestos-containing materials and release harmful fibres into the air.
Unaware of the danger, people may breathe in these fibres, unknowingly putting their health at risk.
Understanding the Risk During Renovations
Asbestos-related health risks aren’t immediate; they usually surface decades after exposure.
However, repeated exposure during renovation projects can increase the likelihood of developing health complications. Therefore, understanding the risks is vital to implementing proper safety measures.
Safe Asbestos Management during Renovations
Handling asbestos safely is crucial to minimise health risks during renovations.
The Importance of Professional Asbestos Inspection
Before beginning any renovation work, it is advisable to hire a professional to inspect the property for asbestos.
As professionals are knowledgeable about where asbestos might be located and how to handle it, they can ensure a thorough and safe inspection process.
Asbestos Removal Procedures
Depending on the amount and location of asbestos found, a professional removalist might be needed. In Australia, any amount over 10m² must be removed by a licensed professional.
They will employ proper removal procedures, ensuring minimal release of asbestos fibres.
Disposing of Asbestos Safely
After removal, asbestos must be disposed of safely at approved facilities to prevent any future exposure. This step is also typically handled by professional removalists, in line with Australian regulations.
Australian Regulations on Asbestos
Australia has stringent regulations concerning asbestos to protect its citizens.
National and State Asbestos Laws
Both national and state laws govern the handling, removal and disposal of asbestos in Australia. Non-compliance can lead to hefty penalties.
Therefore, understanding these regulations is crucial before embarking on a renovation project.
The Role of WorkSafe and Safe Work Australia
WorkSafe and Safe Work Australia are two regulatory bodies that ensure the safe management of asbestos in Australia.
They provide guidelines, conduct inspections, enforce regulations, and are the go-to resources for any asbestos-related queries or reports of non-compliance.
With a deep understanding of the potential dangers associated with asbestos and armed with the knowledge of how to manage it safely, it is possible to undertake renovation projects without fear.
Always remember, asbestos safety is a responsibility for all Australians, not just a regulatory requirement.
Asbestos Safety: A Responsibility For All Australians
Asbestos safety isn’t just about following regulations; it’s about protecting the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities.
By being mindful of the presence of asbestos in older homes and undertaking renovations with caution, we can collectively ensure a healthier and safer future for all Australians.