Renovation Safety: A Guide to Asbestos

When a home was built between the years of 1920 in 1980, it would often contain asbestos as one of the building materials. If you live in a home that was manufactured during that time, any type of renovation work should be done very carefully as asbestos can be dangerous if treated incorrectly. In particular, the activity of asbestos removal can be fraught with danger.

Types of Asbestos

Many people don't realize that there are two different types of building materials made from asbestos. They are typically labeled as either being friable or non-friable. When building material contains asbestos, it is considered to be nonfriable asbestos. Of course, that wouldn't include friable asbestos. When nonfriable asbestos is dry, you cannot crumble or reduce the asbestos to a powder when using hand pressure on its own. Nonfriable asbestos was used in building for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons include cement sheets made from compressed or corrugated asbestos, in use with drainage, water, and flue pipes and it was also used in floor tiles as well. When the nonfriable asbestos material is damaged due to hail, fire, drilling or even water blasting, it could turn into friable asbestos. When asbestos is found inside of the material and is able to be crumbled or reduced to a powder with hand pressure when it is dry, it is considered friable asbestos material. This is also true if it is included in the building material as a powder. Most homes did not use friable asbestos. For the most part, it was used commercially in industrial areas, such as asbestos rope and cloth, sprayed limpet and pipe insulation. When friable asbestos exists in a home or business, only a licensed asbestos removal professional is able to handle the issue. They will carry a license that gives them clearance to remove the asbestos.

Is there a danger to asbestos?

When you are working or living in the building that contains asbestos but the asbestos is still in good condition, the evidence shows that it is not harmful to your health. In other words, when those asbestos fibers are tightly bound within cement or another compound, both medical and scientific evidence shows that it is safe. When you are in this type of the situation, it's best not to disturb the asbestos. The material should be inspected visually on occasion to see if it is deteriorating or if damage has occurred.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is more than just a building material, it is a mineral that occurs in nature and it can be mined. The fibers within asbestos are extremely strong and produce fire resistance, durability, and insulating properties for building purposes. When compared with the human hair, asbestos fibers may be as much as 200 times thinner, allowing it to become airborne for an extended amount of time. In addition, it is difficult if not impossible to see those fibers and they can easily enter the lungs when we breathe. There are many materials that used asbestos in the manufacturing process. In Australia, the building industry used asbestos starting in the 1940s and extending until the 1980s. As of December 31, 2003, there has been a national ban on any type of asbestos. That ban is for the use of asbestos in new construction but it does not mean that it must be removed from older construction projects.

7 things that need to be done prior to working

  1. Your local council should be contacted for any approval necessary to begin the work.There may be certain renovation activities that would need approval from the local council. In those cases, it may be necessary to receive a building approval or planning permit. Contacting the local council is always the best choice prior to starting work.
  2. Consider how the asbestos waste will be disposed ofSome people choose to dispose of the asbestos on their own. This shouldn't be a problem if it is a small quantity but if it is a larger quantity, then a waste contractor who is licensed should be consulted. Source: When choosing to dispose of the asbestos on your own, your local council should also be contacted for any requirements. They will let you know what the cost would be and where to take the asbestos for disposal. The asbestos will also need to be packaged in thick plastic and wet down to keep the asbestos fibers from going airborne.
  3. Check if a licensed asbestos removal specialist is neededIf the removal of a nonfriable material that contains asbestos is 10m2 or less, it does not require a certificate. It is still vitally important, however, to keep the asbestos fibers from going airborne by following the proper safety precautions.
  4. Consider others who may be affected by what you are doingIt is important to think beyond your own safety. There may be other people who work in the building, pets or perhaps even neighbors who could be affected. It is your responsibility under law to protect the health and welfare of others when dealing with asbestos. This would include keeping asbestos fibers from going airborne and leaving the asbestos dust on the job site after you are finished.
  5. Plan in advance and gather necessary equipmentPrior to working with asbestos, plan out the job carefully and purchase any equipment needed to get it done. The minimum equipment is outlined on the website and in this booklet. You can obtain the booklet at a hardware store or through safety equipment suppliers. Waste asbestos should be stored temporarily in a plastic-lined bin or on a layer of thick plastic to be wrapped at a later time. Any debris should be cleaned thoroughly and the entire area should be decontaminated prior to allowing outside access.
  6. Understand how to protect yourself from exposure to asbestosOne key factor for your safety is wearing the proper personal protective equipment, also known as PPE. It can safeguard your health when you are working around asbestos. Most hardware stores will carry PPE, as do safety equipment suppliers.
  7. Plan ahead for asbestos waste disposalAll asbestos waste should be cleaned up, properly packaged and disposed of quickly. This would include your PPE and surplus asbestos. It is illegal to store asbestos, sell it or give it away under NSW law.