Asbestos Removal - What you need to know to remove asbestos safely

If you are thinking about renovating, it is important to be aware of how to safely manage asbestos in and around the home. About one third of all Australian homes contain asbestos products and the health risks associated with asbestos exposure include a number life-threatening diseases.

With this week marking National Asbestos Awareness Week, it is critical that homeowners and renovators be familiar with best practice surrounding asbestos removal. Using freelance job applications to organise your asbestos removal services can lead to using unqualified workers to do dangerous jobs that they are not certified or licensed to do.

Best Practice for Safe Asbestos Removal

Doing your best to ensure safe asbestos removal during renovations is a critical part of taking precautions to keep yourself and others safe, including your family and neighbours. When it comes to home renovations, conducting do-it-yourself (‘DIY’) asbestos removal is not recommended.

The danger and presence of asbestos

Asbestos — a dangerous natural material — can be found in a range of common building products and was commonly used in building houses in Australia. According to the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, if a house was built before 1990 it is likely to made of materials that could contains some asbestos. This is especially the case for the kitchen and bathroom areas, but other areas of the home also commonly contain asbestos-containing material, including fencing, flooring, roofing and gutters.

When it comes to identifying asbestos in your home, the only way to be certain is to perform asbestos sampling and testing. Importantly, getting an asbestos inspection of your house done before you hire any tradespeople to work on renovations is recommended — this way you are able to provide an asbestos survey to any workers so that they are aware of potential risks 

The requirements surrounding asbestos removal

While in the ACT all asbestos removal work must be carried out by a licensed asbestos removalist, all other states and territories, including Victoria, allow for a non-licensed person to remove non-friable asbestos as long as the area is no bigger than 10m². Since asbestos removal tasks will typically require removal of larger areas than this, in most cases will need a licensed asbestos removalist.

Friable asbestos means material that is in a powder form or that can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry, and contains asbestos. This is important to know because under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations a Class A licence permits the removal of all types of asbestos, including both friable and non-friable forms, while a Class B licence can only remove non-friable asbestos.

This means that if you’re removing more than 10m2 of non-friable asbestos, you must be licensed to remove asbestos. However, if you are removing less than 10m2 of non-friable asbestos, it is still recommended that you engage a licensed removalist and undertake asbestos awareness training.

Non-Licensed, DIY Removals

It is important to remember that a non-licensed person who is doing removal work for non-friable asbestos must still be considered to be a competent person, meaning that they have completed training, have industry experience with asbestos removal and have the right equipment for the task.

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Remember that even though a non-licensed person is allowed to carry out removal work on a small scale, it still has the potential to be dangerous to human health.

How to Engage Asbestos Removalists

When thinking about how you are going to go about engaging an asbestos removalist, it is important to find licenced businesses with proper training and equipment.

With online services platforms on the rise, it is important to know that organising asbestos removal work through online freelance job platforms can be problematic. Such platforms function primarily as a meeting place where freelance workers can ‘bid’ on various tasks or jobs that others post online.

There are concerns that such platforms can lead to unqualified tradespeople performing jobs that they are not properly trained or certified to do — which is particularly dangerous where the job involves asbestos removal, and such instances could breach safety and licencing laws.

It is important to be aware that there is nothing preventing unqualified workers from bidding for jobs and undercutting others who have paid for and undergone the necessary training and certification. When online, always make sure to check the qualifications or other signifiers that show works are properly certified to handle asbestos removal tasks, and ask for a copy of their licence.

The best way to find an asbestos removalist is to contact your health and safety regulator in your state or territory, who will be able to provide you with a list of licensed asbestos removalists. In Victoria, you can do this by visiting the website of Work Safe Victoria here.

The Yellow Pages will also list asbestos removalists. You can ask removalists listed in the Pages for a copy of their license (being either Class A or B), or contact the work health and safety regulator to check if they have the right class of license for the job.