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Asbestos in heritage properties

27/02/2019
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When dealing with the presence of asbestos in heritage buildings, there are several factors that need to be considered. It is integral to manage asbestos removal within your property in a timely and efficient manner, if left unmanaged, asbestos has the potential to cause significant harm to occupants. Whilst asbestos causes no threat to the structure of a building itself, human exposure to asbestos can lead to a range of health problems, including pleural plaques, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. These health issues are caused by airborne asbestos fibres being inhaled into the lungs.

Where is asbestos commonly found?

Prior to its identification as a hazardous substance, asbestos was used prolifically in construction. Asbestos was inexpensive to create and was a terrific insulator, as well as being able to act as a fire retardant. Examples of the uses of asbestos in heritage buildings are:

– in insulation
– in central heating systems
– in electrical installations
– in textured coatings and painting.

Whilst the presence of asbestos in your property does not always pose an immediate risk, it becomes a very serious issue if the asbestos-containing materials are damaged, deteriorating or disturbed in any way that causes fibres to be airborne. It is the likelihood of deterioration due to ageing that causes asbestos to be a particularly high risk in heritage buildings. Since asbestos has been used in commercial buildings since the 19th century, traces can be found in many heritage listed spaces in various building materials. As well as this, any property owner considering making renovations or structural changes should be aware of the likelihood of disturbing asbestos and causing a safety hazard.

Heritage integrity vs risk management.

For property owners, a constant tug of war will exist between maintaining the conservation of a heritage property and the OH&S (occupational health and safety) and risk management associated with asbestos removal. It is often presumed that maintenance and asbestos removal can cause structural harm to heritage properties. Consultation with a dedicated heritage builder when completing any renovations (such as the re-roofing of a heritage property) will ensure both safety compliance and the endurance of the integrity of your heritage property.

What is your responsibility as a property owner?

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 states that a property owner is responsible for managing asbestos in the following ways:

– to take steps to classify and determine the location of all asbestos-containing materials.
– to keep and maintain a log of the location, type and condition of the asbestos.
– to determine the risk of the asbestos-containing materials and to carry out remedial actions if required
– to inform anyone who may come in contact with the asbestos-containing materials to prevent disturbance and exposure.

Managing asbestos removal within your heritage property can seem like a daunting task. Balancing the heritage integrity of your building with health and safety can be challenging, but is entirely achievable with the help of a dedicated heritage renovator.

Photo: asbestos-table by Asbestos Testing licensed under Creative Commons 4.0
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