Respect asbestos risks to help save Australian lives 

Cherie Barber

During National Asbestos Awareness Week (November 20-26), Australia’s Asbestos Education Committee is urging DIYers, residents and tradies who renovate homes to respect the ever present dangers of asbestos to help prevent asbestos-related diseases that kill more than 4,000 Australians every year – 235 per cent more than died on Australian roads in 2022. 

Chair of the Asbestos Education Committee Clare Collins said, “With one-in-three homes containing asbestos and with the continuing DIY boom, serious concerns have been raised that DIYers and tradies who renovate homes might be risking their lives and the lives of families by playing renovation roulette if they fail to respect the potentially life-threatening risks if asbestos is not managed safely.” 

If asbestos-containing materials are disturbed during maintenance, renovation or demolition and minute fibres are released which can be inhaled, this can lead to asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. There is no cure for mesothelioma, a cancer that can develop between 33 and 44 years after inhaling asbestos fibres with the average survival time following diagnosis, just 12 months. 

“With a staggering number of deaths each year from asbestos-related diseases and with deaths predicted to continue to rise among workers and those exposed to fibres during renovations; it’s vital that homeowners and tradies respect asbestos risks when renovating any home built before 1990,” she said. 

“Renovators need to be aware that asbestos fibres were used in the manufacture of more than 3000 building and decorator products that lie hidden in one third of Aussie homes, and that asbestos detection is not included in a standard building report. It’s vital that before homeowners take up tools, they visit to learn what they need to know to ensure asbestos is managed safely and in line with regulations, and have a licenced asbestos assessor or occupational hygienist inspect your property,” said Ms Collins. 

While many renovators may think that only tradies are at risk of asbestos-related diseases; according to the most recent Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR) Report (April 2023), 83 per cent of respondents were assessed as having had ‘possible or probable’ exposure to asbestos fibres in non-occupational settings – primarily homes. 

Of the patients surveyed, the dominant non-occupational exposure to asbestos fibres (51 per cent) occurred when undertaking major home renovations. 38 per cent said they’d lived in a house undergoing renovations. 20 per cent said they’d lived in the same home as someone who was exposed to asbestos at work and brought the fibres home, and 12 per cent said they’d lived in a house made of fibro that was built between 1947 and 1987. 

A classic fibro house

“Most Australians don’t know asbestos-containing products are not just lurking in fibro homes, they were used widely in brick, weatherboard, clad homes and apartments and other structures commonly found on properties including backyard sheds, fences, garages, chook sheds and even dog kennels. It could be anywhere!” she said. 

If undisturbed, well maintained and in a stable, sealed condition, these products are considered unlikely to pose health risks. However, if disturbed during renovations, maintenance, removal or the demolition of older homes and other structures such as fences, sheds or garages, and minute fibres are released that can be inhaled, homeowners and tradies can be putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk. 

“We’re urging homeowners and tradies to respect asbestos and avoid risking exposure when renovating older properties by engaging an occupational hygienist or licenced asbestos professionals who are trained to identify, remove and dispose of asbestos safely in accordance with regulations,” Ms Collins said. 

Cherie Barber, Australia’s Renovation Queen and Ambassador for the National Asbestos Awareness Campaign is Australia’s foremost expert on renovating having featured on many current affairs and lifestyle programs and in international media forums over her 30+ year award-winning renovating career. 

Cherie who lost her grandfather to asbestos is passionate about educating homeowners and DIYers on how to renovate properties with asbestos safely because she knows the devastating impact it can have on families. 

“While asbestos remains hidden in one third of Australian homes, it will continue to pose a very real and present danger to homeowners and tradies for many years to come so it’s vital we respect asbestos and manage asbestos-containing materials safely to prevent releasing fibres that can kill. 

“By respecting the dangers of asbestos, it just may save your life or the life of a loved one,” Ms Barber said. 

“The bottom line is, if your home was built before 1990 and you suspect it may contain asbestos, before taking up tools engage a licenced asbestos assessor or occupational hygienist to inspect your property and if you need to remove asbestos, only use licenced asbestos removalists who will remove and dispose of it safely,” she said. 

“It’s time homeowners, renovators and tradies stop being complacent and learn to manage asbestos safely by visiting Australia’s most comprehensive, trusted source of asbestos information,” 

The website contains an extensive range of free, user-friendly information for homeowners, property managers, renovators and tradies with the newly developed Asbestos 101 for Residential Property Owners, Managers and Tradies education resource developed for anyone who might do work on residential properties. 

Developed in accordance with government Work Health and Safety Regulations and Codes of Practice, Asbestos 101 for Residential Property Owners, Managers and Tradies is a comprehensive resource that provides Australians with vital information as to why asbestos is dangerous; the risks of working unsafely with ACMs; the steps to take if they come across materials they suspect may contain asbestos; the importance of engaging an occupational hygienist or licenced asbestos assessor to confirm if asbestos is present; and, why it’s vital to only use licenced asbestos removalists to ensure hazardous asbestos materials are removed and disposed of safely in accordance with government regulations. 

When it comes to asbestos; Don’t cut it! Don’t drill it! Don’t drop it! Don’t sand it! Don’t saw it! Don’t scrape it! Don’t scrub it! Don’t dismantle it! Don’t tip it! Don’t waterblast it! Don’t demolish it! And whatever you do… Don’t dump it! Visit – It’s not worth the risk!