Often we hear from those who think that asbestos is a thing of the past.  However asbestos is still very much an issue that can’t be ignored, especially when considering the amount of renovations on heritage houses and the alarming prevalence of mesothelioma and resulting asbestos deaths. This feature investigates Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) approved advice on how to handle asbestos and products that can help you.

In the presence of Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) it is important to adhere to the following:

What are some of the common plumbing activities I need to take care with?

Pipe repair and connection to pipes insulated with asbestos, followed by drilling are the biggest risks to plumbers when carrying out work. Asbestos can be in a friable or non-friable form. Friable means you can break it up with just your fingers. Pipe lagging is friable, asbestos cement pipe is generally non-friable. If it is friable, it is easier to breathe in, which increases your risk of contracting an asbestos related disease. These areas are all on top of regular types of ACMs encountered in a residence such as roofs, walls, ceilings, or eave linings.

Safety tips

If you have any reason to believe there might be ACMs where you are working, stop work immediately and don’t risk it. It is important to treat the material as asbestos until it is tested and confirmed.

It is important to note that friable asbestos can only be removed by a class A licenced asbestos removalist.

Asbestos is always a risk when it is disturbed because it produces dust that contains asbestos fibres. Airborne fibres are easily generated either through weathering or from building related activities such as demolition, drilling, cutting or sanding. If the ACM is in good condition (i.e. undamaged, undisturbed, well maintained), the safest option is to leave it alone and visually inspect the materials from time to time for deterioration and damage. It is unlikely to pose a health risk if it is in good condition.

Pipe lagging

Pipe lagging is usually found in commercial properties but also has been found in residential apartment blocks. Be on the lookout for this material anywhere there is a central boiler or hot water service in older buildings.

One commonly overlooked example is the insulation or pipe chasing inside walls and wall cavities particularly of brick/cement/double brick homes; where the pipes (usually the hot pipe) are insulated or ‘chased’ with asbestos-based plaster. This plaster used to be available dry, in bags and applied wet onsite to insulate the pipes from heat loss to the bricks or mortar. This is common in double brick houses and apartment and unit blocks especially to shower pipes.

Asbestos cement sewer vents and flue pipes

This can be from heaters or hot water service units (both gas and electrical). The standard toilet/sewer pipe was very commonly constructed using this type of pipe with various caps and shaped ends. Water and drain pipes and the connecting sealant between sections are often ACMs.

Due to its prevalence in Australian homes, it is important to know whether the property you are working on contains ACM and how to avoid disturbing it. In line with most state and territory asbestos regulations, it is the requirement of workplaces built prior to 2004 to prepare, maintain and update an asbestos register that identifies any ACMs located at a workplace, and that the register is made available to staff, contractors or other visitors.

When there is potential to come across asbestos on a worksite, it is important to always ask for the asbestos register and ensure you protect yourself with disposable overalls, gloves and a cartridge half face mask.

deconta are your solution for asbestos removal equipment

German-based asbestos removal technology innovators deconta have been delivering state of the art asbestos removal solutions to Australia since 2007. Offering a maximum of security and economy, we recommend getting their leading technology and range of machinery on board to solve the problem.

Marcus Jarman represents deconta in Australia and New Zealand. He did his asbestos removal course at PICAC and now supplies the training centres with industry best asbestos removal products.

‘There is much more in the way of asbestos removal in Europe, because there are so many older buildings. The Government of France put a grid on top of the country and implemented asbestos removal, square by square, until they removed the whole lot. They’re very strict with it. In Australia, when you are selling your house it’s up to the buyer as to what happens, in France it’s mandatory.’

His comments on common perceptions of asbestos are also interesting. ‘People think asbestos is a thing of the past. Young kids don’t even know about asbestos. But it’s still extremely common in old properties. It will be interesting to see if there is a spike in diseases following the DIY revolution that seems to be taking Australia by storm.’

For more information about deconta, contact Marcus on (03) 9312 4565 or via email [email protected]