In recent months, incidents such as the discovery of asbestos at the site of Lend Lease’s Barangaroo project in Sydney have underscored the importance of precautionary measures regarding the material from the viewpoint of construction workers on major building sites.
Less attention has been focused on the danger to home renovators, who may or may not be aware what precautions need to be taken.
Yet Federal Minister for Workplace Relations Bill Shorten has warned that asbestos may well be lurking in many homes, and that DIY renovators could potentially be exposing themselves and their families to the deadly material simply because they did not know it was there.
Shorten says that on average, asbestos is present in one in three Australian homes, and that the proportion of affected homes may be higher than this in some suburbs and towns around the country.
“Asbestos was used widely as a building material from 1921 through to 1987, but it wasn’t completely banned until 2003,” Shorten warns. “Any homes built or renovated during that period may contain asbestos.”
The danger is so prevalent that the federal government has joined forces with renovation program The Block and hardware chain Mitre 10 to raise awareness about the material among DIY renovators.
A new brochure produced by the three parties, Identifying asbestos in our home, describes where asbestos may be found and what it may look like.
The Block host Scott Cam agrees that precautions regarding asbestos must be considered prior to undertaking any significant DIY renovation project.
“As a tradie, I’m aware of the potential dangers from asbestos,” Cam says. “DIY renovations are fantastic projects but they should always be done with safety at the top of your mind. Anyone who is thinking of putting a drill through a wall or knocking down a shed should first stop and think, could there be asbestos in there?”
According to the brochure, which has been adapted from a book by Brian Sketcher of Asbestos Audits Queensland, places where asbestos can be found include eaves, fake brick cladding, water heaters, garden sheds and roofing, and behind tiling.
Shorten says the material becomes unsafe when it is distributed, cut, sanded or exposed to the environment.
He says it would be a tragedy for DIY renovators to expose themselves and their families to the deadly material ‘simply because they didn’t know it was there.’
The latest warning comes amid ongoing debate throughout the country regarding broader safety issues associated with building and renovation work being carried out by non-certified builders.
In Tasmania, for example, the government recently voted to retain a maximum threshold of $5,000 worth of work which non-accredited builders are permitted to perform on any one construction or renovation job.