Home maintenance

Asbestos safety and awareness

Homeowners, tradespeople and owner builders are urged to be aware of the hidden dangers of asbestos when renovating or carrying out maintenance on properties built before 1990.

Despite asbestos use being banned since 2003, about one-third of Australian homes contain asbestos products. Asbestos was used in over 3000 products and applications before it was banned, and Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos-related disease in the world.

An estimated 4,000 Australians die annually from asbestos-related disease which is double the annual road toll.

In response to this alarming statistic, the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) engaged a market research company to survey owner builders and gauge their level of awareness and attitude towards asbestos. The survey found that owner builders were mostly aware that asbestos was dangerous but locating where asbestos could be lurking was still a mystery.

We also established a working group with state and federal authorities including Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and the Asbestos Disease Support Society to improve owner builders’ knowledge of managing asbestos removal during home renovations.

Where is asbestos found in a typical Australian home built before 1990?

Asbestos cement sheeting and other building materials were commonly used in building materials for domestic and commercial premises, particularly from the 1940s to the late 1980s, although some lesser use started from 1900 onwards. These mostly non-friable or bonded materials containing asbestos were often used both inside and outside the home.

You can test your asbestos knowledge by identifying where asbestos containing materials could be lurking in and outside the home.

If unsure, consult a professional

More than 90 per cent of owner builders surveyed were aware that asbestos may be in ceilings, roofs and walls in older homes. Respondents were less aware that asbestos could be lurking in places such as splashbacks in wet areas, insulation, vinyl and carpet underlay, lining behind wall tiles, imitation brick cladding, fencing, sheds, gutters, fuse boxes, joints and concrete formwork.

Most owner builders felt they did not have enough information about asbestos to make informed decisions when doing renovation work.

More information

You can’t tell if a material contains asbestos just by looking at it, but if you think you’ll need to disturb or remove asbestos as part of your reno, you should get a sample of the material tested. A list of licensed asbestos removers can be found at Worksafe Queensland.

For more information on where asbestos could be lurking see the asbestos product gallery.