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Renovating or demolishing? Some guidance on how to mitigate exposing yourself and those around you to asbestos


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kNOw cancer risks at work, Cockle Bay Sydney, May 2015



Bret Baker, President, Asbestos Removal Contractors Association of NSW



Renovating or demolishing? Some guidance on how to mitigate exposing yourself and those around you to asbestos


Presentation outline:

Bret Baker provides an overview of key steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of asbestos exposure when renovating or demolishing, as well as common misconceptions and mistakes.

Read transcript

So, guidance on how to get out of exposing yourself. In New South Wales. I must say there is a lot of information in relation to mitigating your exposure and the effect to you of asbestos. Government organisations on a national basis and state basis have been putting in a lot of effort to make people aware.

It is still quite surprising, how little the knowledge that is out there with some people in the community in relation to contractors. Contractors? seem to be getting very well informed by the regulator, particularly in New South Wales. Workcover New South Wales, they are putting in a lot of effort to make people aware of the Act and Regulation 2011 and national harmonisation has come in to play for contractors in New South Wales. It's not obviously across the country but in New South Wales we have picked up our act in terms of regulation, which I see is a way of moving forward.

So, what is asbestos? Obviously a lot of people in the room do know what asbestos is. Because asbestos was such a good product back in the day for construction, it was widely used everywhere. So, in the past, it has been used in various types, it has been used a loose asbestos spray which is in the Mr Fluffy scenario that Peter Tighe mentioned in relation to the ACT, is also in New South Wales as well, so it actually why it was our first thought and there has been a lot of government initiatives that have taken place to find out which houses contain asbestos and to try and eradicate that asbestos from those houses. In New South Wales, there was a task force put together by WorkCover New South Wales, to go out to councils and the community offering services to allow people to go through and have sampling taken within their ceiling cavities for example. In the ACT, of course I am not representing the ACT, but they have done a great job in the ACT and the federal minister that is aware of this as well has provided a lot of funding for the Mr Fluffy scenario in the ACT. There should be a roll out soon in relation to trying to clean up those places. So, getting to asbestos mining, I will just put this on here just to let people know that we actually did mine asbestos in Australia, it is not just from other countries such as Russia that Peter mentioned, Canada, India and those types of countries, but we actually also did mine asbestos in Australia. The trading products, so these trading products were widely used and a lot of people do reference for example the roof sheeting is Super Six, the wall sheeting is HardiFlex and what not. It is found in many places throughout the home, which I will go through in a moment as well, but the health effects we are well aware of asbestosis, mesothelioma, and the lung cancer and there is a lot more detail there that you will be able to read once it does get up on the website.

So, what are the risks? The risks primarily are the airborne fibres. They are the risks that we are all trying to prevent people from becoming exposed to airborne fibres and we get the question all the time, I have got some asbestos on the ground, is that going to be a problem? Well, it is not a problem unless it becomes airborne and if it is well maintained for example on a house building, cottage, whatever the case may be, it does not actually pose risk while it is actually sitting there, it is only when it is ingested or inhaled does become risk. I had a scenario at one school in New South Wales where there was very much so, a lack of information relation to asbestos. The janitor at the school was running his mower over asbestos all the time and he did not believe it was actually a big deal because it was only small pieces of asbestos, so that is the type of misinformation that is out there that the people actually believe that asbestos is not a problem if it is small, but that is when it actually is a problem.

Where is asbestos found? It is commonly found in a house or in a building. It is pretty much every where because it was such a useful material within construction. Starting from the top, the roofing, roof insulation, guttering, downpipes, eves, ceilings and it just keeps going on. Mastic - so a lot of people are unaware that it is actually in adhesive type materials as well and under floor tiles. In Western Australia, it is very, very prevalent in fencing, so it brings whole new meeting to backyard cricket when the ball is hitting up against your asbestos fence and it is found very commonly also within the ground especially in New South Wales, Northern Beaches areas, lot of people had old shanty house and whatnot that were demolished and just left in place, just buried in the ground and whatnot, we are coming across a lot of asbestos there. Sporting grounds - there are old waste disposal facilities, so we are coming across lot of asbestos in the ground from sporting grounds. New South Wales schools - there is a lot of asbestos in the grounds, there is obviously a lot of asbestos in situ as well. It is sometimes found where you least expect it, it is actually coming up in new materials, this aggregate that we see here for recycled material, it is very common these days for recycled building products such as brick and concrete to have asbestos connected to the brick and concrete and so when you are thinking to go through and do some landscaping and whatnot you could actually in fact be bringing asbestos into your property even today.

So, what do you do if you are going to be doing some renovating or demolishing? The first thing you do is you check before you start, so you ask yourself some typical questions, which I find are typical, but a lot of people do not actually know because asbestos was used so commonly up until late 80s for building structures.

Was there any asbestos used typically pre-1987 when it was no longer allowed to be used? That does not mean that people still do not use it, I know Peter has previously seen examples as well where in Queensland recently some material was imported from overseas and some wall sheeting was actually used.

Is there is any plant or equipment, built prior 2004? So the cut-off date was 31st December 2003 that we could not actually use it for other uses, so it really is quite recent that we still had asbestos being used, typically it was used in military and whatnot as well, but does raise the question then what date should we have as a cut-off date for asbestos registers and the like within a building or structure and I know that is something the agency is looking at the moment as well and from the removalist contractors point of view I know that when we do go into a building to do an assessment prior to commencing any demolition work or any asbestos removal, we always like to have a look at the register and it would be great if we could look at a register and be sure that somebody has gone through, a competent person or licensed assessor has gone through and done investigation before we start. So, it would be good if a register was present even if the register did say that there was no asbestos present within the building, it would give us a level of comfort and I am sure we give other trades a level of comfort as well such as electricians working on electrical backing boards, plumbers having to drill through walls and floors and whatnot as well.

Do not attempt to remove asbestos with people around that are not suitably involved. Obviously personal protective equipment would need to be used, using the appropriate personal protective equipment, so what is called up in the regulations at the moment is that when you are removing friable asbestos for example you need P3 respiratory, non-friable P2, sometimes P1, but obviously higher level of protection is better, so we have to make sure that people working and doing the removal works are appropriately protected, so keep children away, keep pets away, and whatnot, set up exclusion zones, where you can setup encapsulation as well so you prevent cross contamination and use the correct removal techniques, so typically dust suppression techniques with water can be used, mist spray, PVAs, other solution that can be used as well.

On the very, very critical projects that have friable asbestos for example where there is the likelihood of material becoming airborne we also use decontamination units. It is not to say you do not use them all the time, but obviously they have to be realistic in relation to cost implications as well. Negative air units are also used that have a HEPA filter on them to then draw in any airborne fibres and filter that prior to it going out to the environment.

Do not use a domestic vacuum cleaner. A lot of people think that you go and purchase domestic vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter. A HEPA filter on the domestic vacuum cleaner would approximately be about this size. The HEPA vacuum on a H category HEPA vacuum cleaner is much, much larger and it will obviously work for a longer period of time due to the surface area and whatnot, but lot of people believe using just a standard HEPA vacuum or even a standard vacuum is the right thing to do, in actual fact if you use a standard vacuum without a HEPA filter on it, you can actually throw asbestos up into the atmosphere and it is more readily inhalable.

So, you do not cut the asbestos, you do not drill the asbestos, you do not sand it, you do not scrape it, you do not scrub it, you do not water blast it, which commonly people do water blast Super Six roofs to clean them, you do not demolish it, you do not dump it on the side of the road, so often people put them out for council pick-up, some people put them out on the side of the curb and gutter because they do not how to dispose of asbestos and you certainly do not place in your domestic waste bin. So, you do not do all of that, but you must dispose of it correctly. So, it does make it quite difficult when you look at all of these techniques and whatnot that you are not supposed to do. So, this is a common example of people putting it out with the council clean up, some people are just are not aware of what asbestos is and some people just leave it on the side of the road for vehicles to travel over and obviously that is going to become airborne.

My recommendation is to leave it to the experts if you want to get it done appropriately unless you want to go through and do a lot of training and somehow gain experience. There are obviously training courses throughout Australia to undertake asbestos removal. There are various types of training courses, you have got your Asbestos Awareness Course, which we are certainly trying to promote in New South Wales, it is becoming a recognised course, in the ACT they have done that. There is the non-friable asbestos which typically takes shape as the old bonded style asbestos sheeting and whatnot. There is a friable asbestos training and then there is also supervisor training.

Obviously, get experienced contractors, the more experienced they are, typically the better equipment they do have and obviously then they typically have better trained or better experienced people. Licensing - obviously use the correct licensed contractor for the works and typically this comes with insurance as well in relation to asbestos liability insurance, public liability. In New South Wales for example a minimum of worker?s compensation insurance. Where can they be found? In New South Wales, the organisation that I represent, Asbestos Removal Contracts Association, we do have a website that does have a list of members on there that are licenced and do have trained employees and also Workcover New South Wales do have their website that do have licensed contractors that are listed on their website for the various types and the search can be done by area and by category as well.


We want the public to do the right thing, but obviously there are drivers that stop them from doing the right thing e.g. the expenses associated with getting a licensed removalist, dumping it is expensive to do it the right way. What we are looking at to try and help drive the appropriate behaviours?

That is a good question. In New South Wales, we have raised exactly those issues and it is good that government is actually is listening. The Environmental Protection Authority New South Wales, they have been funding our programs, especially to assist councils and many councils have taken up these programs whereby they allow disposal of asbestos within their local area. They basically put a program together where the council will organise the licensed removalist to actually go around and pick their asbestos for free. So, that is something that is Environmental Protection Authority has rolled out earlier this year and that has been very successful. So, I know in Western Sydney there were 10 regional councils under WSROC program, Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils that did undertake that program and they are actually seeking funding to do that again. So, that has been very successful. I do realise I have been doing that in other areas as well throughout New South Wales.

The Environmental Protection Authority also is doing a lot of other things in relation to waste tracking. I understand that Peter mentioned an app on the phone, which is where everyone is turning these days and that is for licensed contractors, they are actually are putting an app together so that we can actually track asbestos waste. For the local community, is something that we certainly do encourage is correct disposal, asbestos awareness campaigns, much as you see with the leaflets outside. They have been undertaken primarily in November each year around three years ago, there was asbestos awareness day, two years ago there was asbestos awareness week and last year was asbestos awareness month. So, there is a lot more media campaigns that are taking place. Betty the Bus, which is an initiative that has been put together that is driven by Insight Communications and WorkCover New South Wales, is a bus that goes around to local councils to also inform people where asbestos is in their properties as well. So there s a lot that is being undertaken on a council level, state level and on a national level to try and assist householders in various ways, awareness, cost, disposal.

This page was last updated on: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

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