DIY renovators warned of asbestos risks
A new report in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) suggests that the proportion of asbestos-related cancer deaths being caused by do-it-yourself (DIY) renovations is increasing.
Roy Morgan research shows that each year, eight million Australians carry out renovations or extensions to their home worth $5000 or more.
Renovation activities such as drilling, cutting or breaking up asbestos walls causes asbestos to be released into the air. While most asbestos is bonded (non-friable) — and therefore is less likely to be inhaled — some of it is over 50 years old and starting to break down (friable).
Exposure to asbestos fibres can cause a range of debilitating medical conditions. For instance, asbestos fibres ingested into the lungs can remain there and, 20 to 50 years later, lead to an aggressive type of cancer called mesothelioma. Diagnosis is a death sentence, usually within one year.
With around 45% of construction tradespeople unable to identify asbestos, DIY renovators are likely to have even less chance of identifying and avoiding the deadly material during renovations.
An assessment of the abilities of DIY renovators to identify asbestos has not been carried out; however, the MJA survey found that non-DIY renovators were far less likely to report being exposed to asbestos than DIY renovators.
Of the 858 DIY renovators surveyed for the MJA report, a staggering 527 (61.4%) reported having had asbestos exposure during their renovation, compared with only 20 (2.7%) respondents in the non-DIY group.
Equally concerning is the 337 DIY respondents (39.3%) who reported that their partner had been exposed to asbestos during renovations and 196 participants (22.8%) who reported that their children had been exposed as well as their partner.
Adding to the problem is the statistic that only 12.0% of DIY renovators reported using respiratory protection regularly, while 28.4% reported using it occasionally.
A 2016 report by the Public Health Research and Practice journal titled Mesothelioma in Australia: cresting the third wave found that of the 449 people newly diagnosed with mesothelioma between 1 July 2010 and 1 April 2015 who gave information, 57% had performed major home renovations involving asbestos products.
With home renovations and associated reality television shows booming, asbestos campaigners have called for those shows to better promote the dangers of asbestos.
Lead campaigner at the Bernie Banton Foundation, Rod Smith, whose wife Julie died of mesothelioma in 2011, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the show should better warn its viewers about asbestos dangers.
“We had one person watch the show on a Friday night and then she smashed up her ensuite over the weekend — they have now totally contaminated their whole family,” he said.
“This is the problem with these shows and they have a part to play. The number one factor they should be highlighting is that they have had an asbestos assessment done and it has been removed or condensed down.”
DIY asbestos handling
Those who plan on renovating should first make sure they have identified if there is asbestos in their home. They can have your home inspected by a licensed removalist or asbestos assessor to confirm if it has any asbestos.
Note that asbestos was commonly used in construction until 1987 and was not restricted to fibro housing. This means that asbestos can be found anywhere from cement floors, walls, ceilings, fences, sheds, building insulation, pipes. It can also be buried in the ground by previous builders.
A trained asbestos removal specialist must be engaged for the removal of more than 10 square metres of non-friable asbestos or when spending more than one hour in any seven-day period removing it. The removal of any amount of friable asbestos requires a specialist.
Asbestos PPE and safety
Disposable dust masks are not as effective in preventing the inhalation of asbestos fibres and dust. Pro Safety Gear’s Half Mask Respirator with P2 Filters complies with Australian Standard AS/NZS 1716-2003 and thus will offer the required protection in most cases of non-friable asbestos handling.
The respirator’s fit on your face is critical and fit testing before use is a mandatory requirement of Australian Standards.
Ensure you follow instructions to check the fit of the respirator, and that you comply with the mask’s directions for use.
Coveralls, gloves and boot covers
You should also wear a disposable coverall with Type 5 particle protection; a disposable, chemical style of glove that has a full seal against particle transfer; and shoe covers over laceless shoes.
Disposing of asbestos waste and PPE
Asbestos waste can only be disposed of using an Asbestos Control Plan that eliminates the release of airborne asbestos fibres. Asbestos material must be kept wet to reduce fibre release and stored in new, heavy-duty, double-layered 0.2 mm polythene sheeting or bags labelled “CAUTION ASBESTOS” and disposed of at designated locations.
PPE should also be disposed of after use. It should never be re-used and must be disposed of as asbestos waste after completion of the asbestos-related activity.
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