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Clear and present danger: Asbestos exposed

Industry: 
All industries
Runtime: 
15 mins 59 secs

The film shows common places where asbestos can be found in a typical Queensland home built before 1990, when asbestos was commonly used as a construction material. There are a host of safety tips to consider during renovation to prevent exposing yourself or others to asbestos fibres.

Home renovators and tradies alike are urged to play it safe with asbestos materials and to be aware of the risks of exposing themselves and others to asbestos fibres during renovation projects. Don't be a cowboy when it comes to home renovating.

Also available on DVD. Order your copy by sending your details to safe [at] oir.qld.gov.au

ON SCREEN TEXT: Houses built before 1990 may contain asbestos.

VOICEOVER: Most houses built before 1990 are likely to contain some asbestos.

ON SCREEN TEXT: Widely-used building product, durable, fire resistant, good insulator.

VOICEOVER: It was a building product used widely back then because it was durable, fire resistant and a good insulator. Now, of course, it’s banned from use.

ON SCREEN TEXT: Known health risk, no immediate effect.

VOICEOVER: Exposed asbestos fibres are a known health risk, but not something where you’ll see an immediate effect.

ON SCREEN TEXT: Don’t’ panic.

VOICEOVER: But don’t panic… most asbestos, if it is well-maintained and coated with paint or sealant, is unlikely to be a problem…. and the fibres are usually tightly bound together in cement or some other material.

ON SCREEN TEXT: Disturbing asbestos is dangerous.

VOICEOVER: It’s only when you or someone else disturbs asbestos, through cutting, drilling, sanding, water blasting, or removing asbestos panels, that the fibres are at risk of becoming airborne and pose a higher risk to you and your family if they’re breathed in.

ON SCREEN TEXT: Don’t be complacent about asbestos.

VOICEOVER: This means if you have plumbers, electricians, tilers, painters or the like visiting your house to complete work or if you’re doing your own home renovations, it’s important to know where it could be.

VOICEOVER: So… where are some places you might find asbestos lurking in your home?

VOICEOVER: Hopefully, Louis will be able to help answer that question.

VOICEOVER: Louis’s a former tradie who’s now a Workplace Health and Safety Queensland Inspector. What he doesn’t know about asbestos isn’t worth knowing!

VOICEOVER: He’s visiting Lauren today to show her where she might find asbestos in her home and provide some hot tips on how to best manage it.

TITLE: Clear and present DANGER: Asbestos Exposed

LAUREN: (Homeowner): Hey Louis…

LOUIS: (WHSQ Inspector): How are you today?

LAUREN: How are you?

LOUIS: Good thanks…

LAUREN: Thanks for coming over

LOUIS: No Problems

LAUREN: So this is the house…

LAUREN: We just recently bought this place so we’re really excited to get into renovating but got a feeling there might be some asbestos lurking around though, so we haven’t gone too crazy yet. But we’d really appreciate your opinion.

LOUIS: Sure. Typically for a house built like this before 1990, the rule of thumb is treat whatever you see here as possibly asbestos. And already straight up, I can see some fibro sheeting up on your gables. Also your gables at the front here. And also your soffits or eaves.

ON SCREEN TEXT: Where else could you find asbestos outside?

LEONARD: (Interlux): Asbestos products can be found in many places in a home, a typical home, starting from the roof down and the exterior. You’ve got your roof. You’ve got your gutters, your downpipes. You’ve got your barging on the end. Your gable ends. Exterior sheeting on the walls. 
(Imagery on screen of roof, gutters, downpipes, barge cap, gable ends and imitation brick exterior sheeting). 
(Back to Lauren and Louis at the house)

LAUREN: if there’s asbestos up there, is that going to be a risk?

LOUIS: As long as the fibro sheeting is well maintained, and sealed, it’s no risk to anyone. I guess, at the end of the day, if you start disturbing it, cutting it, drilling it, that’s when it becomes a risk to you.

LAUREN: Ok, well we do want to do some renovations so I’ll bring you inside and you can have a look.

LOUIS: Ok, look forward to it!

ON SCREEN TEXT: Who is at most risk of exposure to asbestos these days?

LEONARD: Most of the people that are most likely to contact an asbestos-related disease now would be tradies.

KI: (Chief Medical Officer, WHSQ): the builders, carpenters, electricians, because they're often drilling into things, to put wiring through, or plumbing the pipes, or they're demolishing houses that they may not have recognised contain asbestos.

LEONARD: People doing roof repairs.

LEONARD: People can even be exposed to asbestos fibres hosing off their roofs, gurney-ing or high pressure washing.

LEONARD: Well it’s not just the tradies that are at risk here, it’s the home renovator. The do-it-yourselfer. The person who may not be able to afford to bring a tradie in, quite handy themselves, want to do a little home project. They’ll take on the work and quite often who helps dad out with the work, could be even the kids.

KI: And that’s why we’re very concerned to make sure that people that are working with asbestos, first of all, they recognise it, and secondly, they take the proper precautions.
(Louis and Lauren inside the home)

LAUREN: Welcome to my home! 

LOUIS: Lovely!

LAUREN: I’ll show you this little room first. This is my study. Got a lot of great little ideas for this spot so I’d really like your opinion as to whether you think there’s anything I’d need to be concerned about here?

LOUIS: Yeah, I reckon just coz of the age of the house and just looking at the dimple effect on your wall sheeting here and the protruding nail, that’s typical of an older type asbestos. And also your ceilings are the same so…

LAUREN: Yeah I can see the nails up on the roof there.

LOUIS: But like anything you do get it tested before you do any work on it but I’d be treating it as asbestos, definitely by that look there.

LAUREN: Ok

LOUIS: Other than that it’s all sealed, so it’s safe the way it is, it’s only when you’ve disturbed it, have you disturbed the asbestos in any way?

LAUREN: One of the first things my husband and I did when we moved in was we put in a whole lot of picture hooks, that little picture frame over there was one of the first things we put up and we sort of went a little crazy I guess and put them up everywhere. Is that something I need to be worried about, have we inadvertently exposed ourselves in any way with that?

LOUIS: Just keep in mind that drilling into asbestos, there is a degree of risk. It’s a one off exposure so the degree of risk is very minimal but please keep in mind that there is procedures for drilling asbestos.

ON SCREEN TEXT: When and how is asbestos dangerous?

DAVID: (Chief Occupational Hygiene Advisor, WHSQ): The kind of asbestos dust that is harmful to health, is, ah, of a particle size that you won't see with the naked eye.

DAVID: When you're working with asbestos materials, if you're wanting to drill it, or sand it you run the risk of creating quite a lot of fibres, thousands and thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of fibres. And those are dispersed into the air around, where the workers are working.

KI: Asbestos fibres cause a problem in the lung because they're long and thin, they're easily inhaled, and they're hard to clear from the lung.

KI: There are three main diseases that asbestos causes. One is Asbestosis, which is the scarring of the lung tissue, and that prevents oxygen being absorbed through the lung and into the bloodstream. The second more serious one is Asbestos Related Lung Cancer.

KI: And the third and most serious disease is Mesothelioma, and that's the cancer of the lining of the lung.

KI: Ah, despite 20, 30 years of research, we still don't have good treatments for it, and the average life expectancy is still measured in months, rather than years. 

KI: We should treat asbestos with caution. We shouldn't be afraid of it. But we also shouldn't ignore the risk.
(Back to Louis and Lauren at the house)

LAUREN: Louis, one of the things I want to do is just get rid of this wall, and like open up this space, is that something that my husband and I can do ourselves?

LOUIS: Even if you wanted to remove that one sheet there, the same precautions are applicable, so it’s gotta be done by the book, the same risks apply.

ON SCREEN TEXT: DIY Renovations

LEONARD: If I was an owner of a home or a property that I wanted to renovate or demolish or alter in some way, shape or form, I would get some advice… and have the property inspected by a trained professional. They will identify the areas where it will exist and then that can be recorded. We can even put stickers and notify people that there’s asbestos on the property. And you quite often will find them in electrical boxes or inside linen closets or under the sink in kitchens, where a person or a tradesperson may normally go to conduct their work. That gives the tradies or somebody coming to the property an opportunity to identify that there is asbestos on the property before they disturb it. 
(Back to Louis and Lauren at the house)

LAUREN: So Louis, this is the master bedroom and one of the things that I want to do in this room, is do some kind of cool feature wall. Maybe a really nice wallpaper here. Is this wall the same as the other wall in the study?

LOUIS: What I’m looking at here is the flat walls as such. There’s no joins in it like the other room, can’t see any dimple, dimple look and just the feel of it, it actually feels like gyprock and also your gyprock cornice up here and possibly your gyprock ceiling as well. So to me, this has gone through a recent renovation. I’d probably get an electrician in, just to pull those points off, get a sample behind those points just to confirm it is asbestos free

LAUREN: Hopefully it’s asbestos free because then I can get stuck into this room straight away. Umm, in through here it’s a bit of a funny room for us.

LOUIS: I can see straight up, by some of the sheeting here with the exposed nails and a bit of dimple on some of the sheeting I can see... that once again, like that first room we looked at, it would most probably contain asbestos. The same with your ceilings as well.

LAUREN: Geez, OK.

LOUIS: I noticed also the soffit sheeting, that’s typical of a fibro asbestos type sheeting. I can see that all the holes are actually sealed with paint so there’s no real issue to you unless there’s going to be new holes drilled but I can see over here straight up you’ve got some cracking and that’s just from bowing and stretching over the years. Those cracks are actually sealed with paint so there’s no risk to yourself but if that was a fresh crack well of course you’d definitely get that sealed, with paint.

LAUREN: Ok, I wanna show you this funny little patch down the end of the room. What do you think about that?

LOUIS: My thoughts straight up is definitely. Like you got your vinyl on top and that’s your underlay and that’s typical of your 70s type vinyl that the underlay contained asbestos in that part here. And there’s a high concentration of asbestos in there, probably 70 to 80 percent of the Chrysotile asbestos in there.

LAUREN: Oh gosh, OK.

LOUIS: So with that type of product there, if we were going to remove it by stripping it, you’d need a licensed asbestos removalist, to remove that there.

LAUREN: Even that tiny little patch?

LOUIS: Yep, definitely, don’t put yourself at risk. We can take a sample just to confirm that as well.

LAUREN: Ok…thank you. This is the bathroom.  Again this is a sort of funny room for me because the walls are like a Melamine sort of material

LOUIS: With this lammy panel type sheeting, that is asbestos free.

LOUIS: Same with your ceiling, however, what’s behind it, I don’t know. At the moment here, the way it is, it’s definitely safe.  But if you go through another reno, just be aware of what could be behind the sheeting.

LOUIS: Also in cupboards, there’s also some surprises. A lot of times when you do renovations, a lot of people just leave that cupboard area as is so … oh yeah (looks inside cupboard)….

LOUIS: Can you see the timber? That’s an MDF type timber sheeting which contains no asbestos. But I don’t know what’s behind that wall of sheeting so … just take precautions there.

LAUREN: OK, this is the other, um, lino situation I guess.  We really want to rip it up, it’s ugly. But again, we weren’t sure if it was something that we should be doing straight away.  What are your thoughts?
(Baxter the family dog shakes his head ‘no’)

LOUIS: You don’t mind me ripping this strip up?

LAUREN: No that’s fine.

LOUIS: Like that… As you can see there’s one layer of vinyl here, it’s like a rubber back, so out of all the samples I’ve taken of this type of vinyl, they come back generally asbestos free. 

LOUIS: … but, as you can see, underneath, we’ve got another layer of vinyl and also the underlay and any of those two could possibly contain asbestos. So, the precaution being, treat that as asbestos, or get a sample taken of it.

LAUREN: Ok, that’s a really good tip because just by looking at it, if I’d assumed that it was ok, I would’ve just ripped it up not thinking there would be other layers underneath.

ON SCREEN TEXT:  Cleaning up after the job

LEONARD: If after the asbestos removal project is over and you find that there’s some asbestos dust or suspicious dust left over… one has to be careful too in the cleanup that you don’t just use any old vacuum cleaner. A household vacuum cleaner isn’t designed for cleaning up hazardous materials, especially asbestos.
Don’t sweep it either. That’ll only create more dust and it’ll spread throughout the house. Get some disposable rags, wet them down and wet-wipe it up. And don’t forget, dispose of the rags as contaminated waste.    
(Louis and Lauren outside in the garden area)

LAUREN: Hey Louis, I wanna show you our outdoor fencing through here. Is this something we need to be concerned about?

LOUIS: Ah, definitely Lauren, this is a profile called Super 6. Super 6 can pit because it’s not sealed so with hail, rain, winds, sun, over time it starts to deteriorate and delaminate so at the end of the day, it is a good thing to seal it.

LAUREN: Well, that’s good because we’ve actually sealed from the outside as well so I can show you that.

LAUREN: What about this little bit here? A truck actually backed into this. It totally wasn’t me but is that something I need to be worried about?

LOUIS: There is some bare fibres that are exposed. The best thing you can do here Lauren is paint over that whole area, and that seals it…

ONSCREEN TEXT: It’s illegal to use high pressure water blast asbestos materials.

LEONARD: Asbestos roofs, Super 6 roofing as they call it, and fences are a particular high risk, they’ve been subject to the elements over many years …you get a gurney or borrow a gurney for the weekend and you start blasting off the roof…
The sand and cement that bonds the asbestos fibres within it they’ve been washed out so now you’ve got loose fibres…then fibres are being spread all over the neighbourhood.
(Back to Louis and Lauren on the stairwell at the back deck)

LOUIS: Well Lauren, here’s some more, and what this is here is just some fibro packing and because of the age of the building, we’d have to suspect that’s asbestos as well, but having a look at it as you can see it’s all sealed.

LAUREN: It’s all very daunting, having so much asbestos in our home.

LOUIS: There’s no need to be worried, everything we’ve looked at, is sealed and safe, there’s no risks of exposure of asbestos fibres into the air. There is one thing we will look at is that lino which I’ll take a sample away for analysis, and I’ll get back to you on that but everything today we looked at is fine

ON SCREEN TEXT: The wrap up

LEONARD: I see people working on properties, doing renovations, little projects. 
I see people not taking the precautions. Not having the appropriate PPE. Using power tools, angle grinders. I’ve even seen people doing interior strip-outs of homes and throwing the stuff on the front lawn for the kids to clean up or whatever later.

LEONARD: No matter whether you’re a homeowner doing a do-it-yourself project or a tradie, if you’re doing any renovations on a property that has asbestos or you suspect has asbestos, you’ve got to take precautions

LEONARD: I don’t think too many people take it serious until they actually know somebody they’ve lost or it affects themselves… That is all too late.

VOICEOVER: It may only take a couple of minutes now to drill a hole or knock out a wall, but really, is the risk worth it? 
The safest way to manage asbestos is knowing where it’s located. 
If you’re removing it then get a licensed professional to do the job, or if it’s minor maintenance, then make sure you or the contractor in your house is using safe work procedures and the right equipment. 
Definitely don’t break up asbestos sheets and keep it wet down and wrapped in thick plastic until it can be safely disposed of.
You don’t want it to affect the health of your own family or that of your neighbours.

VOICEOVER: Disposing of asbestos correctly is really important too. The first port of call should be to contact your local council for advice. 
If you’re concerned about work completed by a contractor on asbestos at your place, then contact Workplace Health and Safety Queensland for more help. 
Often it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie…. If asbestos doesn’t need to be disturbed, then don’t touch it.

VOICEOVER: Visit the Queensland Government website for more information

ONSCREEN TEXT: For more information go to: www.qld.gov.au/asbestos
An asbestos consultant can help advise you about asbestos in your home and a NATA-approved laboratory can test a sample for asbestos.

Please use the internet or your local phone directory to find one in your area.
WHSQ are not asbestos consultants and do not test for asbestos.

ONSCREEN TEXT (Credits):

Filmed in Brisbane.

Thanks to:
Andrew Keegan, Principal inspector, WHSQ
Brett Biddle, Principal inspector, WHSQ
Luke Ellis, Senior inspector, WHSQ
Leonard Lee, Director, Interlux
Louis Hasted, Principal Inspector (Construction), WHSQ
Lauren and Baxter, Homeowners
Ki Douglas, Chief Medical Officer, WHSQ
Andrew McKenna, Principal Inspector, WHSQ
David Grantham, Chief Occupational Hygiene Advisor, WHSQ
Gary Fulton, Laboratory Manager, WHSQ

Stills: Stephen Dutka, Andrew Clark, Gary Fulton and Tony Phillips

Script by L. Obrien, Andrew Clark, Marcia Roscrow and Mandy Lake.