If your home was built or renovated before the mid-1980s, the most likely scenario is that you are dealing with some asbestos in the building material. Asbestos was commonly used in cement sheeting (fibro), drainage and flue pipes, roofing, guttering and flexible building boards, and in brakes, clutches and gaskets.
Of course, in hindsight, it would have been preferable if other materials had been used. However, knowledge about the health risks of asbestos has only been highlighted in recent decades through the pain and suffering of afflicted individuals, and the efforts of those who lost their lives to fight for their compensation rights.
In the 1960’s and 70’s loose fibre asbestos was used in some parts of NSW as home roof insulation. Today we are confronted not only with asbestos in homes, but also with the prevalent amount and widespread use of asbestos in public buildings, including schools.
Asbestos fibres are inhaled from exposed materials and this inhalation can cause asbestosis, cancer of the lung and mesothelioma. The more fibres, the greater the risk. Many people who experience health problems from breathing in asbestos have been exposed to high levels of the material for long periods of time. The symptoms of these diseases are often not apparent for many years, with diseases developing decades after exposure.
Finding that your building is made from fibro products does not necessarily mean your health is at risk. However, as buildings age, deteriorate and are subject to weather conditions, there is more chance of exposed asbestos and greater health risk. Different forms of asbestos material present different levels of risk. If the material is stable, there is less risk. However, where fibro or other bonded asbestos sheeting is damaged, fibres become airborne more readily and present a hazard. Continuing to live, work or study in such an environment is dangerous, and attempting to remove the asbestos unsafely presents unwarranted health risks.
In materials such as pipe lagging and sprayed roof insulation, asbestos fibres are not bound and high concentrations of fibres are much more likely to be released into the air. Removal of loose asbestos or amounts of bonded asbestos sheeting greater than 10 square metres must be undertaken by a licensed person.
For advice on removal, disposal and transport of asbestos waste materials in NSW, contact the Department of Environment & Conservation’s Pollution Line on 131555 or your local council.
Legislation covering the removal of asbestos includes:
a) Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000
b) Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001
c) Code of Practice for the Safe Removal of Asbestos NOHSC: 2002 (1998)
d) Guide to the Control of Asbestos Hazards in Buildings and Structures NOHSC: 3002 (1998)
The Code of Practice and Guide are known collectively as the Worksafe Code of Practice and Guidance Notes on Asbestos. They are specifically referenced in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 under Clause 259. They set out the minimum standards for asbestos removal work.