Online tool educates DIY lovers and tradies about dangers of deadly building material

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
6 Min Read

It’s the deadly hidden secret lurking in the walls of over a third of Aussie homes, killing more than 4000 Aussies per year – over double the nation’s yearly road deaths. 

And as this week draws to a close, it will claim the lives of another 77 Australians.

But it’s not poisonous spiders, venomous snakes, or exposed electrical wiring – if that’s what you’re thinking.

In fact, it’s Asbestos, an initially innocuous building material, which is no longer used but still lies dormant in more than 3.5 million Aussie homes. 

Before its nationwide ban in 1990, asbestos was among the most common construction materials found in over 3,000 frequently used building and decorating products.

If your home was built before then, there’s a near-certain chance the building material is hiding within your walls, ceiling, or floor.

And with no safe level of exposure, one small renovation mistake could put millions of Aussies at risk of developing debilitating lung diseases such as cancerous mesotheliomas. 

But considering those high levels of risk, wouldn’t you think we’d be more aware of asbestos?

Could you even identify asbestos from safe building materials?

And if you were unexpectedly exposed to asbestos, would you know what to do next? 

If you answered no to either of those questions, then the Asbestos Awareness online hub is a great place to start…

Asbestos Awareness Hub

The digital safety tool is designed to educate home renovators and tradespersons about asbestos dangers, assist with asbestos-material identification, and provide information on managing and disposing of it safely.

Its extensive suite of resources includes dozens of free galleries, videos, downloadable checklists, and e-guides to help tradies and DIY lovers identify hazardous material and conduct their work safely. 

It also features safe management plans for asbestos-containing materials in commercial and non-residential properties.

Asbestos Awareness used to spread awareness via the mobile asbestos education trailer “Betty” which has since retired.

Chair of the Asbestos Education Committee Clare Collins explained to Build-it that while asbestos has not been used for new home constructions in more than 30 years, the material’s remaining prevalence made it critical that more homeowners educate themselves on the deadly substance. 

“With community education key to minimising asbestos exposure risks, while these products remain in one-third of Australian homes in a wide range of products, homeowners need to visit to learn what the materials might look like and where they might be found so they can manage asbestos safely to protect their health and the health of others,” she told Build-it. 

For those with limited knowledge of asbestos, the free Asbestos 101 and 20-point Asbestos Safety Checklist are great places to start their learning journey. 

They teach home renovators what to look for and what steps they need to take to stay safe while using the tools. 

So whether you plan to rebuild your house, rip up the kitchen or re-do the bathroom, here are Build-it’s top tips for avoiding asbestos risks:

Where is asbestos found? 

The product can also be found in structures made from cement sheeting used to build garages, backyard sheds, and roofs.

Those renovating homes built before 1990 are at risk of unmasking asbestos at any time. The product is found in many building materials and insulation under flooring, around pipes, behind walls, fences, roofs, and garages.

asbestos home
Pre-1990 homes are often riddled with asbestos.

The Asbestos Awareness website has an asbestos material database listing all the materials in which the product has been found. 

How to best avoid asbestos exposure? 

Before starting any project, renovators and tradies must assess whether asbestos could be present in the home.

The first thing to be aware of before commencing any home DIY projects is the property’s build date, with those constructed before 1990 likely to contain some form of asbestos.

If the build date is unknown or you believe your home may contain asbestos despite being built after this period, homeowners can arrange an inspection by the licenced asbestos assessor. 

The Asbestos Awareness website also offers a range of online toole to assist DIY enthusiasts with managing asbestos safety, including the Asbestos Awareness Campaigns beginner’s educational guide, an asbestos product database, and an asbestos safety checklist.

A number of free asbestos fact sheets and checklist are available for home owners and tradies.

What should you do if you encounter asbestos?

If left untouched, asbestos poses no danger to those within the home. However, once it has been disturbed, its microscopic fibres are released into the air, which can be breathed in to have deadly health consequences.

Homes with loose-fill asbestos in their ceilings pose even more risk, with the substance already exposed to the atmosphere. 

If found, only use a licenced asbestos removalist to extract and dispose of the material, as this is the only way to ensure your family’s health.

For a call-out cost similar to consulting any other trade, these asbestos experts will come to your home and ensure all the safety precautions are taken before sealing off the material and removing it.

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.