During this week’s National Asbestos Awareness Week, Australia’s Asbestos Education Committee is warning DIYers, residents and tradies of the ever present dangers of asbestos to help prevent diseases that kill more than 4,000 Australians every year – 235 per cent more than died on Australian roads in 2022.
Clare Collins, Chair of the Asbestos Education Committee said, “With one-in-three homes containing asbestos and with the continuing DIY boom, serious concerns have been raised that DIYers and tradies who renovate homes might be risking their lives and the lives of families by playing renovation roulette if they fail to respect the potentially life-threatening risks if [this product] is not managed safely.”
If asbestos-containing materials are disturbed during maintenance, renovation or demolition and minute fibres are released which can be inhaled, this can lead to diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. There is no cure for mesothelioma, a cancer that can develop between 33 and 44 years after inhaling these fibres with the average survival time following diagnosis, just 12 months.
“With a staggering number of deaths each year from asbestos-related diseases and with deaths predicted to continue to rise among workers and those exposed to fibres during renovations; it’s vital that homeowners and tradies respect the risks when renovating any home built before 1990,” she said.
“Renovators need to be aware that asbestos fibres were used in the manufacture of more than 3000 building and decorator products that lie hidden in one third of Aussie homes, and that asbestos detection is not included in a standard building report. It’s vital that before homeowners take up tools, they visit www.asbestosawareness.com.au to learn what they need to know to ensure asbestos is managed safely and in line with regulations, and have a licenced asbestos assessor or occupational hygienist inspect your property” said Collins.
While many renovators may think that only tradies are at risk of asbestos-related diseases; according to the most recent Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR) Report (April 2023), 83 per cent of respondents were assessed as having had ‘possible or probable’ exposure to thsse fibres in non-occupational settings – primarily homes.
Of the patients surveyed, the dominant non-occupational exposure to such fibres (51 per cent) occurred when undertaking major home renovations. 38 per cent said they’d lived in a house undergoing renovations. 20 per cent said they’d lived in the same home as someone who was exposed to asbestos at work and brought the fibres home, and 12 per cent said they’d lived in a house made of fibro that was built between 1947 and 1987.
“Most Australians don’t know asbestos-containing products are not just lurking in fibro homes, they were used widely in brick, weatherboard, clad homes and apartments and other structures commonly found on properties including backyard sheds, fences, garages, chook sheds and even dog kennels. It could be anywhere,” she said.
If undisturbed, well maintained and in a stable, sealed condition, these products are considered unlikely to pose health risks. However, if disturbed during renovations, maintenance, removal or the demolition of older homes and other structures such as fences, sheds or garages, and minute fibres are released that can be inhaled, homeowners and tradies can be putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk.
“We’re urging homeowners and tradies to respect asbestos and avoid risking exposure when renovating older properties by engaging an occupational hygienist or licenced professionals who are trained to identify, remove and dispose of asbestos safely in accordance with regulations,” Collins said.
Cherie Barber, the Ambassador for the campaign is Australia’s foremost expert on renovating having featured on many current affairs and lifestyle programs and in international media forums over her 30+ year award-winning renovating career.
Cherie who lost her grandfather to the disease is passionate about educating homeowners and DIYers on how to renovate properties safely because she knows the devastating impact it can have on families.
“While it remains hidden in one third of Australian homes, it will continue to pose a very real and present danger to homeowners and tradies for many years to come so it’s vital we respect asbestos and manage asbestos-containing materials safely to prevent releasing fibres that can kill.
“By respecting the dangers of asbestos, it just may save your life or the life of a loved one,” Barber said.