This position paper relates to a trend in the residential sector where asbestos cement sheeting is clad with new, non-asbestos products.
This practice causes considerable damage to the asbestos-containing material (ACM), creates asbestos exposure risks and generates substantial clean-up costs.
Whether you are a homeowner or a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), where asbestos is present, a licensed asbestos removalist should be engaged to remove any ACM before cladding. Where ACM has been removed and a flat surface is required to install new cladding, a non-asbestos containing material must be used. Removing ACM before cladding eliminates the risk of inhaling asbestos fibres caused by any future breakage or refurbishment of the exterior of the property. After the ACM is removed by a licensed asbestos removalist, a clearance certificate must be issued by an independent, competent person.
Our inspectors have observed that only asbestos cover strips are being removed from the external asbestos wall sheeting of houses to provide a flat surface to install the new cladding material. The removal of these strips using pinch bars or similar tools, and nailing new non-asbestos cladding into the existing ACM, causes breakage and contamination of the ground and wall cavities where work is being undertaken.
Risks of over-cladding ACM
Over-cladding ACM creates a risk of:
- breakage, leading to asbestos contamination (both by removing the timber connecting strips and nailing in new non-asbestos cladding)
- ACM being hidden from view, creating the potential for disturbance during future refurbishment works
- significant health risks from inhaling airborne asbestos fibres (if ACM is in a stable material (such as fibro) and is in good condition, it poses little health risk, however, where fibro is broken, damaged or disturbed, it can release airborne fibres which may lead to asbestos-related diseases include asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma).
PCBU obligations under the WHS Regulation 2017
The Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulation 2017 places several obligations on PCBUs in relation to demolition or refurbishment on a structure:
- Clause 457 – Refurbishment of residential premises. This clause states that a PCBU who is to carry out refurbishment of residential premises must ensure:
- (a) that all asbestos that is likely to be disturbed is identified
- (b) so far as is reasonably practicable, that the asbestos is removed before the refurbishment is commenced.
- The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Section 18) defines ‘reasonably practicable’. Our position is that it is ‘reasonably practicable’ to remove ACM before refurbishment on most occasions. The removal of over 10 square meters of non-friable asbestos must be done by a licensed asbestos removalist. Refer to the list of licensed asbestos removalists.
- Where it is not reasonably practicable to remove the ACM before refurbishment, PCBUs must comply with all regulations outlined in chapter eight of the WHS Regulation 2017 including:
- ensuring staff have undertaken asbestos awareness training (identification, safe handling, and suitable control measures for asbestos and ACM)
- ensuring staff have undertaken health monitoring if the work is ongoing
- not using, directing or allowing a worker to use any of the following equipment on asbestos or ACM unless to use of the equipment is controlled
- power tools,
- any other implements that cause the release of airborne asbestos into the atmosphere.
Download a pdf of this position paper.