Asbestos was a common building material in Australia prior to the 1990s. Beneficial for fire, sound and water proofing, this material was used extensively when building and renovating homes and commercial properties across the country.
This means that many houses built before 1990 therefore contain asbestos materials – posing a risk for any homeowner or professional undertaking renovations or demolition.
Understanding the risk of asbestos in the home is vital for ensuring families and workers are not accidentally exposed to this deadly material. A key consideration is engaging the services of a qualified professional – who has successfully completed asbestos assessment training – to conduct testing and appraisals before any work is undertaken on older homes.
For small jobs, however, it may not be reasonable to invite a professional in your home. In these situations, it is important that you are aware of the potential risks.
If your home or a property you are renovating was built prior to 1990, here are the six key areas where asbestos materials may be present:
- The bathroom
As asbestos was often used as waterproofing and insulation, it is unsurprising that your bathroom is one of the most significant locations likely to contain this material.
The most common areas for asbestos to be present include the walls, ceilings and floors – particularly if cement sheeting was used during construction.
Another space to be aware of is the insulation around pipes and hot water heaters. In its friable form, asbestos was often sprayed onto pipes to protect against heat loss – making this a key concern for renovators and plumbers.
- Living areas
If the property contains a fireplace, this is one location that is likely to contain asbestos. The product was proven to slow the effects of flames, making it an ideal fireproofing material. However, if the product was to burn, the resulting ash and dust would be a serious risk to health and safety if inhaled.
It is also recommended to be mindful of the total fire and smoke system, including the flue pipes.
Another location to consider is underneath the floors and within the roof space, as asbestos could have been used to insulate in these areas.
As a heat and waterproofing material, asbestos was often used in the kitchen splashbacks – that is, the panels around kitchen sinks and draining boards.
Additionally, asbestos will likely be present in the roof, walls and under the flooring. If your kitchen contains vinyl flooring, the material was often used as backing – so keep this in mind if you are ripping up old tiles or vinyl.
Due to the insulating and waterproofing materials of asbestos, this product was commonly used in exterior cladding. Be mindful of walls and roofs made from imitation brick cladding, concrete and even flat, patterned and corrugated sheeting.
Fibro homes are the most at risk of asbestos exposure, as this form of building material tended to always contain asbestos in Australia. Another area to consider is the guttering around your home, as asbestos fibres can collect here following storms.
In the backyard, any fencing and sheds built from similar exterior materials are also likely to contain asbestos products. Fences were built using asbestos up until the 1990s, with many constructed using “Super Six” fencing, according to the Queensland Asbestos Management Services.
Your home is not the only area where asbestos may have been used in the past. Mechanics and vehicle owners also need to be aware of the risks in their automobile.
Asbestos was used extensively in the automotive industry, with a ban on the products not introduced until December 2003. This means that if your car was manufactured prior to 2004, you could be at risk.
You need to take care when carrying out maintenance on the brakes, clutches or gaskets in particular. Any items installed or purchased before 2004 could contain asbestos fibres, creating a significant risk to your health and wellbeing.
If these parts become damaged in any way, you should take the vehicle to a trained and qualified professional as soon as possible and inform them of the asbestos risk.
- Electric meter board
Not only could asbestos protect against water, heat and fire, it was also often used as an electrical insulation. Asbestos was added to other materials in the manufacture of electrical backing in a similar way to the creation of asbestos cement sheeting.
According to Ausgrid, electrical meter boards installed before 1988 may contain asbestos materials. Another important clue is the colour of your board, as relevant electrical boards were typically black.
The meter boards may also be stamped with one of several product names – Lebah, Ausbestos, Miscolite and Zelemite. Otherwise, it could have a caution sticker placed on or inside the box.
When employing an electrician to work on your board, it is important that you make them aware of the potential asbestos risk. You should also discuss the work that is required and how they will manage the potential risk of exposure for themselves, you and your family.
Additionally, if working as an electrician in Australia, it is important to undertake asbestos awareness training to ensure you can identify and respond to deadly materials. This online course will give skills and knowledge to understand your risks and control the hazards related to your work.
Asbestos awareness training
With asbestos such a significant threat in Australia, it is important that you are able to identify the material in all locations within the home.
For those working in any trades related to plumbing, construction and electrical work, asbestos can be a very real hazard present each time you pick up your tools. For this reason, it is vital that you and your employees complete the necessary asbestos awareness training.
This course is offered online by AlertForce and works as an introduction to this crucial section of work health and safety (WHS) standards. To obtain a basic knowledge of asbestos in Australia and confidently put measures in place to reduce your risks, you should talk to the AlertForce team today.