Environmental public health

Asbestos in the home


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Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring rock minerals. Asbestos fibres are strong and heat resistant, and have natural insulating properties.

Asbestos was previously used extensively in building products in Australia. All use, import or manufacture of asbestos was banned completely in Australia by 2003.

Guide for safe management and removal of asbestos

Asbestos: A guide for householders and the general public (PDF 5.1MB – large file) provides useful information for the public. Householders are advised how to sensibly and safely manage the risks arising from occasional encounters with materials containing asbestos in and around their homes. See the Q&A below for more details about the guide.

The guide was produced by the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) and endorsed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. It is a national publication to which state and territory governments and the Australian Government have contributed.

Asbestos – Victorian government information

The asbestos website Asbestos in Victoria contains the collective advice from government agencies involved in the management of asbestos-related issues (agencies involved in asbestos safety include WorkSafe Victoria and EPA Victoria). The website provides advice and information to help home owners, tenants, employers and workers understand the risks of asbestos.

See the WorkSafe Victoria website for a list of licensed asbestos removalists.

Read about disposal of asbestos waste on this website.

Examples of asbestos-containing materials can be found in Appendix A of the Code of practice for the management and control of asbestos in workplaces, on the Safe Work Australia website.

 

Q and A on ‘Asbestos: A guide for householders and the general public’ + Expand all Collapse all

  • Why did enHealth create the guide? The guide was developed in response to the high volume of individual householder enquiries received by state and territory environmental health units on asbestos identification and management. It also combines the practical guidance documents produced by state and territory governments to create a national source of information.
  • How was the publication developed?

    enHealth, a standing committee of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), in consultation with technical experts, developed the asbestos householders guide. The guide is based on the enHealth technical monograph Management of asbestos in a non-occupational environment, published in 2005.

  • Was there a consultation process during the development of this publication?

    Yes. Each state and territory conducted its own consultation process with stakeholders, including local governments and community organisations. There was also consultation with the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The consultation process was thorough, though specific arrangements varied between jurisdictions.

    enHealth received considerable feedback during this process and suggestions were incorporated when scientifically accurate.

  • Will the publication be reviewed?

    enHealth reviews all technical documents regularly to ensure they are accurate and representative of the available scientific evidence.

  • Does the guide encourage people to undertake home renovations os asbestos themselves? Isn’t this dangerous?

    The guide strongly recommends the engagement of professionals in preference to DIY renovations. However, it acknowledges the fact that some individuals may still choose to undertake their own renovations and therefore provides practical risk minimisation advice.

    The guide was developed as a risk management publication. It is a balance between the precautionary principal and practical public health. It does not encourage individuals to undertake their own renovations, but highlights activities that will increase asbestos-related risks, such as using power tools on asbestos products, and provides information on how to reduce asbestos exposure during renovations.

    The guide also provides contact information to assist householders in identifying licensed professionals in their own area.

  • Is the advice in the guide inconsistent with information from other organisations, like the World Health Organization?

    The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that asbestos is a known carcinogenic and there is no safe level of exposure.

    The WHO provides general information about the management of asbestos in the built environment and focuses mainly on government and commercial buildings. This information is intended to assist countries in developing local asbestos management programs that address their specific needs. The WHO states that the removal of asbestos can pose a health risk and encourages the engagement of licensed professionals and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment.

    The guide acknowledges that there is no absolutely safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres. It provides safety precautions for handling asbestos products in a residential environment that are designed to reduce risks to a low level, and encourages the engagement of licensed professionals to undertake removal.

  • Is the advice in the guide consistent with the recommendations of the Asbestos Management Review?

    The Asbestos Management Review Report was released on 16 August 2012. It also recommends action be taken to improve awareness of asbestos in homes. The guide provides practical advice to support this objective. This advice remains necessary as a program for removal from homes is a long-term objective.

  • Why doesn’t the guide promote prioritised removal of all asbestos? Isn’t all asbestos dangerous for health?

    The purpose of this guide is to respond to the high volume of individual household enquiries received on how to safely perform household renovations. enHealth does not encourage individuals to undertake their own renovations but notes that, where individuals choose to do so, risk minimisation advice in the guide will reduce the risks.

  • Is there a safe level of exposure to asbestos products?

    The guide emphasises that there is no absolutely safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres. It provides information to assist householders in reducing their risk of exposure and outlines activities that are likely to be high-risk.

    The safest way to remove asbestos during renovations is to engage a licensed professional.

  • Can I undertake a single or small number of home renovations without putting myself at risk?

    The guide provides recommendations to assist you in determining what levels of exposure are associated with home renovation activities, and in reducing your level of risk of exposure to asbestos fibres.

    There is no absolutely safe level of exposure to asbestos; however, occasional exposure to small amounts of asbestos is less likely to be dangerous.

  • If I come into contact with an asbestos product, will I get mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease?

    Asbestos fibres pose a risk to your health when they are airborne and breathed in. During home renovations, it is quite likely that asbestos fibres will be released into the air. The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease increases in proportion to the number of asbestos fibres a person breathes in during their life. Most people who develop asbestos-related diseases have worked on jobs where they have frequently breathed in large amounts of asbestos fibres.

    A very small number of asbestos-related disease cases occur each year in people who have not worked with asbestos products. The low number of cases makes it difficult to determine the exact cause of the disease, but unsafe handling of asbestos materials in the home may have contributed to some of these cases.

    The guide provides information on how to reduce airborne fibres during renovations and the correct use of personal protective equipment to prevent inhalation.

    If you are concerned about the health risks posed by the removal of asbestos products, you should engage a licensed professional.

  • The guide doesnt tell me the cost of engaging a licensed professional to remove the asbestos. How can I find that out? Neither the Australian Government nor state and territory governments regulate the costs associated with the removal of asbestos by private organisations. The guide provides references to assist you in identifying licensed professionals near you.
  • How do I order a copy of the guide? How much is it? Free copies of the publication are available from National Mailing and Marketing (NMM). To order a copy, call 02 6269 1000 or email health@nationalmailing.com.au and provide the NMM code EH0065.

Page last updated on 16 Dec 2016