Renovation regulation

Asbestos is often found when renovating buildings of a certain age and it is important to know what you are dealing with and how to manage asbestos-containing materials.

Author

Simon Croft

Asbestos was used extensively in the building, construction and manufacturing industries in a wide variety of applications between the 1950s to the 1980s.

In Australia the use of asbestos was phased out during the 1980s, with the use, re-use, import, export and sale of all forms of asbestos completely banned as of 31 December 2003. The ban does not apply to asbestos material already in place and Australia has a large amount of legacy asbestos-containing material remaining in the current building stock.

A recent report by the federal government into the national asbestos profile for Australia discussed a potential ‘third-wave of asbestos exposure sufferers’ – people associated with renovations and do-it-yourself (DIY) work. The report highlighted that those undertaking repairs and improvements on homes, particularly DIY, may be unwittingly exposing themselves to asbestos.

It’s important to know if a home you are working on contains asbestos and to understand the rules around handling, removal and disposal.

Removing asbestos is a dangerous process that can expose those removing it and others nearby to serious risks

Asbestos in the home?

If the home was built between 1950–1990 you will most likely find materials that contain asbestos.

There are many areas in the home where asbestos can be found including (but not limited to):

• internal wall lining, particularly in
bathrooms and other wet areas
• external wall sheeting (flat or a weatherboard style) and imitation brick cladding
• cement-based roof sheeting and capping
• eave/soffit linings
• water pipes and flues
• vinyl sheet flooring
• carpet and tile underlays
• backing boards to electrical switchboards
• fencing
• carports and sheds.

Australian workplace safety laws categorise asbestos into two types based on the level of risk to health.

Non-friable (or bonded) asbestos – usually asbestos fibres mixed with a bonding compound such as cement.

Friable asbestos – which when dry can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure. Examples include sprayed asbestos coating or insulation, asbestos lagging, loose asbestos and asbestos in its raw form.

Friable asbestos is considered to pose the greater health risk because loose fibres are more likely to become airborne when disturbed. Non-friable asbestos in good condition in a home poses negligible risk to the health of occupants when untouched as it is unlikely to produce airborne fibres. An example is internal wall lining with no cracks or holes which is securely fastened to the supporting structure.

Working around asbestos

Asbestos poses a health risk when it is disturbed because this can release asbestos fibres into the air. If you plan to renovate an older home that you believe contains asbestos you must observe the recommended safety precautions, otherwise you risk exposing yourself and your contractors to long-term health risks.

Whether the best option is to leave the asbestos in place undisturbed, or to remove it will depend upon the type of works being undertaken.

renovation regulation
If you plan to renovate an older home you must observe the recommended safety precautions
Asbestos
Asbestos poses a health risk when it is disturbed because this can release asbestos fibres into the air

Removing the asbestos

State and territory laws adopt a code of practice (or compliance code) for the correct procedure for safely removing asbestos in buildings. These are generally based on the Safe Work Australia Model Code of Practice: How to Safely Remove Asbestos.

Prior to undertaking any activity that may affect asbestos (demolition, refurbishment or asbestos removal work) you’re required to assess whether the asbestos is classed as ‘friable’ or ‘non-friable/bonded’. This is a key determinant of whether or not the asbestos can be removed without a licence, the type of licence needed and the safety provisions applicable for its removal.

Although some state and territory laws allow limited amounts of asbestos to be removed by unlicensed persons, this does not mean that unlicensed persons are exempt from the asbestos regulations. They are only exempt from the requirement to be licensed.

Unlicensed removal of asbestos is subject to strict safety conditions similar to those imposed on licensed persons. This is because removing asbestos is a dangerous process that can expose those removing it and others nearby to serious risks to their health and safety if not properly carried out.

For this reason you should consider hiring licensed professionals to do the work, even if the removal can be carried out without a licence.

In addition to the safe removal requirements, some states also require a licensed asbestos assessor to carry out atmospheric monitoring and/or issue a written clearance certificate prior to re-occupation of a site from which asbestos has been removed.

Disposal

Like the licensing requirements, the regulations governing transportation, notification and disposal of asbestos vary from state to state. Your local council may also have policies regarding the handling or disposal of asbestos.

You should contact each of these authorities to ascertain their specific requirements and approved waste disposal facilities.

More information

HIA has a number of member information sheets available to members on the HIA website regarding identification and safe removal of asbestos.

Home renovations & asbestos

This information sheet assists builders and home owners to recognise which building materials in an existing house may contain asbestos.

Asbestos removal regulations

This document sets out the licensing requirements for building practitioners removing asbestos from a construction or demolition site.

Identification of asbestos on site

This member information sheet assists builders to recognise which building materials in an existing house may contain asbestos and which type of asbestos may be present.

Safe removal of asbestos

This information sheet explains the rules that should be followed when removing small amounts of asbestos that do not require a licensed person to undertake the removal.

www.hia.com.au/Publications/InformationSheets

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