There’s a good chance that if you occupy a building which was constructed in Queensland between 1940 until around the late 1980s, it may contain asbestos. The mere existence of asbestos itself is not a big deal because scientific and medical evidence supports the fact that simply living or working in a building containing asbestos is not dangerous, as long as the asbestos product is in good condition. ‘By good condition’ this means the asbestos fibres are still tightly bound within the compound (usually cement sheeting), or sealed in by a compound e.g. paint.
Really, the safest option is to leave it alone. If you have asbestos in your building, or suspect you have asbestos in your building, you’ll need to develop an Asbestos Management Plan, which includes having an Asbestos Register. This is generally used to notify any contractors who come to work in your building who may come into contact with this product e.g. an electrician fitting a power point (drilling into the cement sheeting wall).
My advice is to find a contract professional to conduct an inspection and prepare a plan for you. One of your responsibilities is to make sure that the product does not deteriorate to such an extent that it poses a threat to any workers. If it does deteriorate significantly, or if you are undertaking any sort of renovation, you will need to employ a registered asbestos removalist to get rid of this product in a safe manner.
Around 700 new cases of mesothelioma are reported to the Australian Mesothelioma Registry annually, which is a sad legacy of the widespread use of asbestos over the years. Asbestos can be found in old switchboards, external and internal cladding, vent pipes, vinyl and carpet underlay, behind wall tiles as well as in fencing, sheds and splashbacks in wet areas.
There are two types of asbestos products. The lower threat level is found in non-friable (bonded) asbestos, such as cement sheeting or roof tiles, as long as it stays bonded and undisturbed. A typical fibro sheet contains between 5–20% asbestos. Asbestos can also be found in vinyl floor tiles that were often used in Queensland buildings. These tiles contain between 8–30% cent asbestos.
Friable (loosely bound) asbestos is potentially more dangerous than the bonded product. Friable products can contain up to 100% asbestos. It can be found in old domestic heaters, stoves, hot water systems and pipe lagging, inside fireplaces or old fireproof doors and in stairwells.
When asbestos is disturbed, broken, sanded or cut, asbestos fibres are released into the air and can increase the risk of being inhaled. While most cases of asbestos related diseases result from sustained workplace exposure to asbestos fibres, some asbestos related diseases, such as mesothelioma, can result from brief periods of breathing in high concentration asbestos fibres without adequate protection.
So, if you have any asbestos product in your building, just leave it if it’s in good condition, otherwise seal it in or if it’s deteriorating, have it removed by a licensed professional.