What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of many small fibres. It was used extensively in a wide range of building materials in the mid-to-late-20th century, until the mid-1980s, due to its strength, resistance to heat, fire and friction. There are circumstances of asbestos being used in Australia up until 2003.
When airborne, the small fibres can be inhaled and become lodged in the lungs, potentially causing severe health issues. The use of asbestos as a building material ceased after its health risks became known, but it is still present in many buildings today.
Asbestos was banned in Australia on the 31st of December 2003 making it illegal to import, store, supply, sell, install, use or re-use asbestos materials. The Asbestos ban in Australia does not apply to asbestos material already in place. Due to the widespread use of asbestos materials in the second half of the 20th century, Australia has a large number of legacy asbestos-containing materials still remaining in the built environment.
In New Zealand, asbestos was often used as a fire retardant and insulation within the workplace during the mid-1980s with many buildings built, altered or refurbished from 1940 until the mid-1980s likely to contain asbestos-containing materials. On 1st October 2016, it became illegal to import asbestos-containing products into New Zealand, with many asbestos-containing materials still remaining in homes and workplaces.
Are there different types of Asbestos?
Asbestos can take a number of forms, but the most commonly found in Australia and New Zealand are:
White asbestos (Chrysotile)
Brown asbestos (Amosite)
Blue asbestos (Crocidolite)
The longer and finer the fibres, the more dangerous asbestos is. The blue and brown forms of asbestos are therefore more dangerous than white asbestos, which has shorter, curlier fibres. However, all forms of asbestos can still pose a serious risk to health.
Asbestos is often referred to as friable and non-friable, which relates to how easily the dangerous fibres are released from the material.
Friable asbestos is easily broken or crumbled, releasing dangerous fibres into the air.
Non-friable asbestos is bonded asbestos that does not easily release fibres into the air, but can still do so if damaged.
Health issues related to Asbestos?
Asbestos fibres can pose a health risk if airborne, as inhalation is the main way that asbestos enters the body. These fibres may get trapped into the lungs and remain there, overtime causing scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Refer to your state’s government health website for more information.
What does Asbestos look like?
Asbestos fibres themselves are not visible to the naked eye, and many materials contain it. Asbestos has been used in many different building materials, making it difficult to identify all potential sources in the home or workplace. The only certain way to identify all sources of asbestos is with thorough sampling, and testing of those samples in a laboratory.
How do I know if there is Asbestos in my home or workplace?
As a general rule, if the building was built or renovated before 1990, it is likely that it will contain asbestos in some form. Buildings constructed between the late 1940s and 1980s are very likely to contain asbestos.
Asbestos was commonly used in building materials including:
Corrugated roofing and wall cladding including fence sheets
Cement boards, linings, infills, panels and planking
Pipe lagging / pipe insulation
Floor coverings such as vinyl floor tiles & vinyl (lino) sheeting
Wet area wall linings, splashbacks and toilet/shower partitions
Electrical Switchboards, wire and fuse insulation
However, there are also a great many other asbestos containing materials (ACMs) that are frequently found in buildings, and are difficult to identify by inexperienced people.
Do I need to have Asbestos removed?
If you are planning to undertake renovation or demolition work on an older building, it’s extremely important that you investigate the presence of asbestos first. If asbestos is present, its safe removal must be carefully planned and carried out, to protect people and the environment. Even if you already have an existing asbestos register, it is unlikely that it will record all instances of ACM within the building.
If asbestos is undamaged and in good condition, it may not pose an immediate risk to health. It is only when the fibres are released into the air that asbestos poses serious health risks. It may not be necessary to have asbestos removed, unless the asbestos is likely to be disturbed through building maintenance, renovation, refurbishment or demolition works.
Carters are able to assist you by undertaking a Pre-demolition or Renovation Asbestos Survey to locate asbestos materials within the building or structure. Speak with one of our experienced team members for advice and to ensure the safety of yourself and others.
Who is responsible for supplying an Asbestos register for a workplace/commercial property?
In most cases the owner of the property is responsible for supplying an asbestos register to the tenant of the property. It is a tenant's responsibility to request that the owner supply an asbestos register and to familiarise themselves with it. The register must be supplied to any contractors working on the site. It is the responsibility of the person with management and control of the workplace to ensure an asbestos register is available on the site.
If an agent or owner refuses to supply an asbestos register, contact the regulatory body (in your state) about the issue. The statutory/regulatory government body may visit the site and put an improvement notice on the property which will require the owner/agent to comply or face fines.