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Before the mid-1980s, asbestos was used in many building projects across the country.
According to Asbestos Awareness, around one in three homes in Australia contains asbestos – and if your home was constructed prior to 1987, there's a very good chance that asbestos is present.
It's a common myth that only fibro (short for "fibrous or cement sheet") homes contain asbestos. However, it can be found in brick, clad and weatherboard, as well as fibro homes. So, don't fall into the trap of thinking you won't be affected!
In fact, a study conducted in 2008 by Professor Anthony Johnson (et al) stated that 60.5 per cent of people who had undertaken DIY renovations in their homes were exposed to asbestos.
To make matters worse, a further 53 per cent said their partners had come into contact with asbestos at some point during the renovations, and 40 per cent admitted their children had too.
You can't tell whether materials contain asbestos or not simply by looking at them. That's why it's important to know where you might find this deadly substance.
Some common places you might encounter asbestos include beneath floor coverings, such as carpet, tiles and linoleum, as well as in cement floors, ceiling and roof tiles, and in the walls.
However, there are a number of areas in and around your home where asbestos could be lurking that may surprise you! The following are just 10:
1) Ventilation systems. Even if your ventilation systems themselves don't contain asbestos, they may become tainted by asbestos dust if they're located in contaminated areas, states UK health, safety and environmental risk management consultant Santia.
While it can build up in ventilation systems over the years and, if left untouched, remain harmless, any materials introduced during renovation – such as new filters or extract equipment – could potentially disturb the asbestos and make them airborne.
2) Kitchen appliances (such as crock pots). Though you're unlikely to encounter crock pots while undertaking renovations, it should be noted that many kitchen appliances that were manufactured before the 1980s contained asbestos to help them retain heat.
In crock pots, asbestos may be found between the inner and outer lining, as well as around the power cord, according to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.
3) Electrical meter boards. The backing of many electrical meter boards was constructed using asbestos in some way, shape or form. So, if you're going to have to conduct some electrical work as part of your DIY renovations, make sure you get in touch with a licensed asbestos removal contractor before you begin.
The Queensland government also reveals that most switchboards installed in and around the home before 1990, as well as any switchboards constructed or imported prior to 2004, may contain asbestos.
4) Guttering. WorkCover New South Wales' "Fibro and Asbestos: A Renovator and Homeowner's Guide" states that you should do your utmost to keep guttering in "good repair", as asbestos fibres can collect here following storms. If you're removing them, make sure they've been "wet cleaned and sealed" before you take them down.
The organisation also states that downpipes "should not run into garden beds" so that contaminated water can't find its way into your home through flowers and home-grown produce.
5) Kitchen splashbacks. Asbestos was commonly used in kitchen splashbacks – that is, the panels around kitchen sinks and draining boards – for a long time. Just something to keep in mind if you're thinking about doing up your kitchen!
6) Fireplaces. Because asbestos is flame resistant, it was once considered the perfect material with which to construct fireplaces. For that reason, it can be found in many, many aspects of this common household feature.
The Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America states that asbestos boards or pads were often placed "below the mantel or hidden at the back of the fireplace". It can also be lurking in flues.
7) Hot water pipes. For a long time, asbestos was used as insulation around hot water pipes and your main hot water tank – to keep the cold out or the heat in. The Health and Safety Executive warns that many pipes were painted or given an outer coating, so it may not be immediately obvious that they were made using asbestos.
It's not just hot water pipes, however. Asbestos Awareness states that asbestos was also used in pipes going in and out of the bathroom, to transport both fresh water and sewerage.
8) Backyard sheds. You may think that once you're undertaking renovations in the great outdoors, you're safe from the threat of asbestos. Well, guess again. This dangerous material was used in a wide array of outdoor furnishings and buildings, such as backyard sheds – so you need to be just as careful when you're performing DIY tasks in your garden as you would inside.
9) Fences. Continuing with the backyard theme, fences were built using asbestos up until the 1990s. If your fence was constructed in anytime between the 1990s and today, it's unlikely it will contain this deadly substance. Queensland Asbestos Management Services states that asbestos fences are most likely to be made of "Super Six" fencing – however, there are many forms of asbestos fences, so it's better to be safe than sorry.
10) Vehicles. As with crock pots, you probably won't be taking apart any vehicles as part of your DIY renovations. Nevertheless, being aware that asbestos can be found in the brakes, hood liners, clutches and gasket material is important – and bears testimony to the fact that asbestos can pretty much be located anywhere.
It's particularly dangerous in brakes and clutches, as the normal wear-and-tear that comes with driving vehicles can cause these important features of your car to release asbestos fibres – which may then be inhaled by your and your passengers.
Remember, as Asbestos Awareness states, if you're unsure:
"Don't cut it! Don't drill it! Don't drop it! Don't sand it! Don't saw it! Don't scrape it! Don't scrub it! Don't dismantle it! Don't tip it! Don't waterblast it! Don't demolish it! And whatever you do … Don't dump it!"
Your best course of action in this situation is to get in touch with a licensed asbestos removal contractor. Or, better yet, why don't you become one yourself?
AlertForce offers a range of asbestos training courses. These include an online awareness course that will provide you with an overview of best practice when it comes to working in an environment that contains asbestos.
In addition to this, AlertForce can help you earn the Remove Non-Friable Asbestos (Class B) and Remove Friable Asbestos (Class A) certificates, so you'll be qualified to safely identify, assess and manage or remove asbestos from a contaminated site.
For more information about the asbestos training courses we provide, don't hesitate to get in touch with the friendly team at AlertForce today.
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