When you work as an asbestos consultant you hear and see it all, everyone has a myriad of stories to tell about DIY renovations gone wrong. Some of the worst jobs I have ever seen come from unlicensed asbestos removal less than 10 square meters. We constantly see the boundaries being pushed of what constitutes 10 square metres or how often someone is removing 10 square metres. Whether it's a residential DIY warrior, or a contractor who regularly removes small amounts of non-friable asbestos, this post looks into the issues of unlicensed asbestos removal and the comparisons between using a licensed or unlicensed contractor.
DIY asbestos removal (image courtesey asbestos.sa.gov.au)
10m2 of fibre cement sheeting doesn't sound like a lot, but when removed incorrectly can create a great deal of mess. Even a few panels from an old kitchen splashback can result in asbestos debris strewn across a property. This is generally the result of inexperience on the tools, e.g. not de-nailing or removing trims, breaking sheets in small pieces, no dropsheets and not wrapping/transporting waste appropriately. Other issues arise with the type of consumables used, which is most often cheap plastic, cheap coveralls and cheap respirators purchased from a certain hardware store. There can also often be a bit of shock when it comes to the working conditions, as doing that type of work with all that gear on, well...
What about contractors who regularly remove less than 10m2 of asbestos? This could be builders, electricians, plumbers, roofers, civil labourers. The list goes on. Tradies who regularly encounter, repair, maintain and remove asbestos containing products as part of their regular working routines. These tradespeople often don't have regular lung x-rays / spirometry, they aren't fit tested to RPE, they don't own a HEPA vacuum and they don't have asbestos liability insurance. Again, the list goes on!
State regulators provide free information online regarding the safe removal requirements, PPE and safety procedures, though this is not even close to the training received in course 'CPCCDE3014 Remove Non-Friable Asbestos'. I am not saying that the non-friable removal course is anything special! It does however provide some level of training. All of the government endorsed ad campaigns recommend using a licensed professional for any asbestos removal, so why not make it mandatory?
Government Asbestos Websites (image cropped from asbestos.nsw.gov.au)
The table below compares the differences between the unlicensed removal of <10m2 of asbestos and licensed removal of >10m2 of asbestos. I understand that there are bad licensed removalists out there and that there are people out there capable of safely removing <10m2 of non-friable asbestos. This is however my expectations if I were heading to each scenario.
At the moment in NSW, you can remove less than 10m2 of non-friable asbestos yourself without having to provide any evidence of experience, training, equipment, health or insurances. You don't need to notify the regulator, you don't even need to google 'how to remove asbestos'.
It's an honesty system.
So, should we get rid of the 10 square metre rule? Should we be rethinking our approach?