Remember the risk of Asbestos when Renovating Old Buildings

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An old verandah lined with asbestos cement sheeting to create more living space.

It was great news when close friends bought an old home literally just around the corner from my wife and I. It is a beautiful old Californian bungalow, which has had an old verandah built in to create a sleep out and a sun room.

As so often happens, the home owners at the time lined the two new rooms with asbestos cement sheeting.

Looking around the garden, some off cuts had been used for garden edging and the like.

If you think that you have found asbestos in your home, the best advise is do not touch it. Asbestos is a risk in the home when it is disturbed in a way that produces dust that contains asbestos fibres. In many cases, the presence of asbestos-containing materials in the home is no cause for alarm if the material has not been damaged.

If the material are not damaged and shows no signs of wear and tear it can often be left in place. For example, internal asbestos cement sheet walls or ceilings that are in good condition and coated with paint do not pose a risk to health, while they are not showing signs of degradation or damage.

However, this type of material can be damaged during a hail or other severe storm. It is also susceptible to cracking and spalling during a fire. If it is damaged as a result of an insured peril, then the cost of removing it safely is typically insured as part of the removal of debris cover[1].

In this case, my friends want to demolish the old verandah and add a modern extension. Similarly they want to clean up the yard.

Before starting this type of work, it is important that this material is first identified before any renovations commence and that it is safely removed and disposed of responsibly and legally.

As I understand it, in most states and territories,  householders may legally remove asbestos from their property, however, as asbestos poses a health risk during removal, packaging, transport and disposal; it is important that it is handled safely during these operations.

An old off cut of asbestos sheeting used as some form of garden edging

An old off cut of asbestos sheeting used as some form of garden edging. It is so tempting just to rip it out and break it up and put it in the rubbish bin. Please don’t.

If you are considering doing this work yourself, I  would  refer you to the OHS Reps web-site for further information regarding the safe handling and removal of asbestos in a domestic situation, although, for the sake of the health of your family and yourself, it may be more prudent to get in the experts.  A case of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, but in the case of asbestos, it is should read: “ton of cure”.

If you are thinking about working with or removing a material that contains asbestos, please consider the following:

  • Do Not use power tools such as drills, saws, jack hammers and the like. (A very dangerous thing to do is use a vacuum cleaner and then try and empty the bag to retain it banging the bag to clean it).
  • Do Not use abrasive cutting or sanding discs
  • Do Not use compressed air
  • Do Not walk on corrugated asbestos cement roofs as it may well be brittle and you run the risk of falling through the roof
  • Do Not leave asbestos products around the garden where they may be broken or crushed
  • Do get the material tested by an accredited laboratory if you are unsure if it contains asbestos
  • Always work with asbestos in well-ventilated areas
  • Always use a good quality dusk mask, eye protection and other safety gear designed for use with asbestos fibres
  • Ensure the material is thoroughly wet down and kept wet during work to minimise the release of fibres and dust

I strongly recommend that loosely-bound asbestos only be removed by a licensed professional, as health risks associated with handling this type of material are far greater than for firmly-bound asbestos.

With the vast majority of insurance policies in the market, liability for injury caused by asbestos is specifically excluded.

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[1] I am not for one second suggesting you set fire to a building to have an insurer remove the asbestos. It is illegal and the fire is potentially more dangerous than the asbestos.

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