This is what you need to know about removing asbestos from your home

greenlight asbestos inspector taking images of outside house

The removal of asbestos, whether from a residential property or a commercial building, is a complicated process.  Strict regulations surround asbestos removal and not following these correctly can have negative impacts on the health of those who live, work, or visit a property. It can also result in hefty fines and legal issues.

Before removing asbestos from your home or property, it’s important to understand the rules, regulations, and limitations of this.

Keep reading to learn about asbestos and what needs to be taken into consideration before removing it.

But first, what is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is known for its strength, durability, heat resistance, and insulative properties.  Asbestos can be found all over the world, including Australia, where it was largely mined from two main sites, Wittendoon in WA, and Woodsreef in NSW. 

Made up of small flexible silicate fibres, asbestos could be used on its own, or mixed with adhesive materials. Because it retained its strength, heat resistance, and insulative capabilities when mixed with other materials, it was commonly used to create building products – also known as asbestos containing materials (ACMs).   

ACMs are categorised as being either friable or non-friable (bonded) materials. Friable asbestos products usually contain a high level of asbestos in them, with some being 100% asbestos. When dry, friable asbestos products can be crumbled or broken down when light pressure is placed on them. Non-friable asbestos products are made when asbestos is mixed with other materials, usually adhesives, to create a solid or bonded product. When non-friable asbestos products are dry, they are not able to be crumbled, or broken down by hand.

Between the 1940s to the late 1980s, the use of asbestos was at its peak, particularly in the building and construction industry. Many building materials for both residential and commercial properties contained asbestos in some capacity. In fact, if your home was built between this period, there is a high chance asbestos is present.

In the late 1980s, as the health risks surrounding asbestos exposure were becoming more understood and known, alternatives to asbestos building materials were being developed and introduced into the building and construction industry, and the use of ACMs was slowed.

Though the use of ACMs slowed significantly from the 1990s onwards, it wasn’t until December 31st, 2003, that the use of asbestos was banned in Australia.

Why asbestos use was banned

While there were numerous benefits that came with using asbestos, particularly in building materials, these benefits could not outweigh the serious health dangers the exposure to asbestos fibres causes.

Asbestos fibres, when inhaled or ingested, can remain deep within the lungs, becoming lodged in the lung tissue. This can cause scarring and inflammation, and serious incurable illnesses such as Asbestosis, Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma. 

When asbestos fibres are disturbed, they can become airborne, and due to their lightweight nature, they can remain in the air for long periods of time, and even travel great distances. Because the fibres are miniscule, and often, not visible to the naked eye, people may not be aware that they are being exposed to asbestos fibres.

When does asbestos exposure happen?

Asbestos fibres can be released in a wide variety of ways, with many incidents of accidental exposure occurring due to the use of power tools on non-friable asbestos containing materials. Actions like drilling, sanding, water blasting, grinding, and cutting can disturb asbestos fibres and cause them to become airborne.

For friable asbestos materials, as they are easily broken by light pressure, asbestos fibres can become airborne easily.  

In many instances, exposure to asbestos is accidental, and can occur because people are not aware that asbestos may be present in a home or building.

 Unless you are highly trained in the occupational health or building and construction industry, being able to spot materials that contain asbestos is not always easy.

Removing asbestos – what’s the deal?

Due to the prevalence of asbestos in homes and properties around Australia, and the health risks associated with it, there are strict rules and regulations when it comes to the management of asbestos materials.

If asbestos is present in your home, before you jump right ahead to getting it removed, there are a number of things to think about.  

Does asbestos need to be removed?

It’s important to note that just because a home or building contains asbestos, it doesn’t mean that it always needs to be removed.

Non-friable asbestos materials can last for long periods, and if it remains undisturbed, undamaged, and in good condition, it does not pose any risk to your health. 

Though to ensure your safety, it is important to understand where these asbestos materials are present in your home  and what condition they are in. This is especially true if you are planning a home renovation or maintenance that may involve actions that could disturb these materials.

Whether it’s DIY or professional builders that conduct work on your home, having the knowledge of the location of asbestos reduces the chances of exposure.

When it should asbestos be removed?

While many bonded asbestos materials can last for long periods of time, a change in their condition, which may occur from natural deterioration or wear and tear, might be an indication that it needs to be removed.  If asbestos in your home is classified as friable, it should be removed.

The best way you can be certain of the condition and risk of any asbestos present in your home, is through an asbestos inspection from a highly trained and qualified asbestos auditor.

Asbestos auditors, like us here at Greenlight, can aid in identifying asbestos materials present throughout your home or property. We do this by collecting samples of potential asbestos materials, analysing these samples in our NATA accredited lab, and providing you with a comprehensive report. 

Our report is simple to understand and will indicate where asbestos is present, the condition of this asbestos, and the risk associated with it.  Our report will also indicate all areas that are asbestos free, so there is no uncertainty around the safety of an area.  A report like ours allows you to confidently understand your asbestos situation and make educated decisions regarding the removal of asbestos.

Even if the asbestos that is present in your home is deemed as posing no risk to your health in its current condition, it’s important to monitor the condition of the materials on a regular basis. 

You can also choose to have asbestos materials removed from your home, even if they are not considered to be a risk, however, it’s important to understand the rules of asbestos removal before any taking any action. 

Can I remove asbestos myself?

Technically, yes – unless you’re in the ACT.

In Australia, in all states and territories, except the ACT, it is legal to conduct SOME asbestos removal yourself.  However, as an unlicenced individual, there are conditions and criteria related to this removal.

The asbestos being removed must only be non-friable asbestos, and must not be damaged, disturbed, broken, or cut.

The amount of non-friable asbestos materials being removed must not exceed 10 square metres.  While in some instances the asbestos materials in a home may not exceed this amount, often, when asbestos materials are present in one area of the home, they are present throughout the entire home.

The person conducting the removal of the asbestos must be considered competent and notice must be given to your local council, neighbours, and anyone in the immediate vicinity that asbestos removals are planned.

While for some, the above may be achievable, there is still a lot to think about when it comes to DIY asbestos removal. 

The removal of any asbestos requires significant planning and safety needs to be at the forefront of this planning. Before making the decision to remove asbestos yourself, it’s important to understand that each of the below steps and considerations are non-negotiable when it comes to asbestos removal.

  • You must be able to safely remove the asbestos materials in a way that eliminates the release of asbestos fibres as much as possible;
  • The size of the asbestos materials must not exceed the legal amount of 10 sqm;
  • You must notify your neighbours, family and anyone in the immediate vicinity that could be exposed to asbestos of your planned works;
  • You must wear appropriate protective clothing and equipment;
  • You need to ensure that any equipment and tools used throughout the process are cleaned and decontaminated before they are removed from the area;
  • Any materials used to decontaminate tools and equipment (like rags and cloths), need to be carefully prepared for disposal;
  • Any asbestos materials need to be carefully packaged for disposal. Information on the correct way to do this can be found here;
  • The asbestos materials must be transported safely to the disposal site.  The materials must stay secure throughout the transportation process and they must be able to be unloaded safely;
  • The disposal of the asbestos must be done at a licenced disposal site.

As you can see, significant planning before, during and after the asbestos removal process is required to ensure it occurs safely and legally.

Should you remove asbestos materials yourself?

While you may feel confident that you can fulfill the requirements we’ve mentioned, just because you can remove asbestos materials, it does not mean that you should.

The removal of asbestos materials is not an easy task, nor is it a predictable one either.  Even non-friable asbestos materials can be easily damaged or disturbed through one wrong step.

There is an extreme health and safety risk attached to the removal process of asbestos materials. This risk to safety not only affects you immediately, especially if you are the one that is planning to perform the removal. This risk affects your family, your neighbours and anyone who may be in the vicinity.

Another thing to take into consideration when it comes to DIY asbestos removal is that many home insurance policies will not cover you for anything to do with working with or handling asbestos. If something goes wrong, like asbestos contamination, you could end up being on the hook for thousands of dollars to cover clean up and potential compensation.  

So, just because you can remove it yourself, it does not mean that you should.

Who should remove asbestos?

You should always leave asbestos removal up to a licenced professional as they are qualified and highly trained to be able to manage this type of work safely.

The removalist you work with should be licenced by WorkSafe or be a trained employee of a licence holder.  They are aware of all precautions that are required before undergoing this work, including notifying WorkSafe in advance of any asbestos removal.

You should also be aware that there are two type of asbestos removal licences – Class A & Class B.

Class A Licence Holders

A class A asbestos removal licence holder is permitted to remove both friable and non-friable asbestos materials, and asbestos-contaminated dust that may have been derived from the removable of the asbestos materials.

Class B Licence Holders

A class B asbestos removal licence permits them to remove non-friable asbestos materials and any asbestos contaminated dust that has been created from the removal of the non-friable asbestos materials. They must not perform any removal of friable asbestos materials.

Both Class A & B licence holders must also comply with a number of requirements that help to control the risk of any asbestos exposure. Some of these requirements include developing an asbestos control plan, providing decontamination facilities, and using specific asbestos removal, containment, and disposal methods. You can learn more about licenced asbestos removalists here.

Understand the big picture before any asbestos removal

If asbestos is present, or likely to be present in your home, it is a good idea to understand the extent of this.

If you’re planning a renovation, the knowledge of the whereabouts of asbestos materials in your home is vital to ensure the safety of yourself, your neighbours, and anyone who may be performing any works on your home during this time. 

Even if you’re not planning any renovations or extensive maintenance of your home, arming yourself with the knowledge of the whereabouts of asbestos in your home can help you prevent any accidental exposure that could potentially occur.

Asbestos exposure can happen for a variety of reasons, including accidental disturbance of asbestos materials during home maintenance, or even from natural degradation of materials in and around your home.

The best way you can ensure your own safety and that of those around you is by having your home inspected for asbestos materials.  

Here at Greenlight, we offer a residential asbestos testing service where we can inspect and test for asbestos materials within your home. 

Our training and experience allows us to recognise potential asbestos materials, and using our NATA accredited lab to test samples, we can confidently, and accurately identify any asbestos present.

We also provide a detailed report that will tell you the areas of the home where asbestos is and is not present. This report will also include information regarding the condition of the asbestos, the risk of this exposure, and recommendations of actions to take to manage the asbestos and prevent exposure.

In addition to providing you with thorough and accurate information, we are also an independent business who does not practice asbestos removal, so you can ensure that we if identify asbestos materials, our recommendations are not based on drumming up extra business for ourselves.  Our priority is ensuring you are provided with accurate information, so you can make educated decisions for your home and safety.

If you have any questions about any of our asbestos services, you can get in touch with us today by calling 03 9048 4411.

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