Recognising when Asbestos is present in the home, and how Property Managers should respond

April 3, 2018


The first week of April is dedicated to Global Asbestos Awareness Week. This is an opportunity for Property Managers to learn more about recognising the material and the risks of asbestos exposure.

Property Managers have a wide range of responsibilities, often including a variety of maintenance and repair jobs. Performing preventative maintenance to ensure a property is in top condition while keeping tenants safe and happy requires a lot of time and attention to detail. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook less noticeable details and safety issues, especially while dealing with glaring and pressing issues. Issues like a pipe freezing or a broken refrigerator often overshadow more risky issues. Certain toxic substances such as asbestos, may be concealed inside products and structural elements that make up a building or home.

Asbestos in Australia

Australia banned the import, manufacture and use of all types of asbestos products in 2003, but despite this ban reports have indicated a number of incidents breaching this regulation. Furthermore, between the mid-1940s and late 1980s, the toxic mineral was commonly used in the construction and renovation of residential homes because of its affordability and insulating properties. Because asbestos has been imported illegally and was used heavily in the past, the toxin could be lurking inside your property.

How to Recognize Asbestos

Asbestos was once considered a “miracle product” due to its resistance to fire and most chemicals, and as a result can be found in a wide array of building materials. Although there are thousands of products known to contain asbestos over the years, certain materials and areas within the home are more likely than others to contain the toxic. Adhesives: Asbestos was used in the production of certain joint compounds, cements and caulks to help form strong bonds on surfaces. Insulation: Asbestos was widely used for insulating walls, attics, pipes, electrical wires and heating units. Siding: The material can often be found in shingles, stucco and transite. Flooring: Asbestos can be found in vinyl tiles, floor tiles, and carpet underlay. Ceilings: The material is durable and resistant to cold, heat and fire, so it was often used in ceiling tiles. Asbestos is also commonly found in popcorn ceilings. Asbestos use peaked from the 1940s to the 1980s, so it’s safe to assume older buildings constructed or renovated during this time period contain the toxin. If you are unsure when the property was built, you can ask the owner or see if the information is on public record. It can be difficult to determine if a material contains asbestos without a trained eye or a lab test. However, knowing when the building was constructed and where to look can help. If you or a tenant suspect materials in the building or home could contain asbestos, it is best to block off that area and call a professional to properly inspect the space. This is especially important if you are doing any renovations. If asbestos is disturbed or handled incorrectly, the toxic fibers could release into the air and cause serious health risks.

The Risk of Ignoring Asbestos

Inhaling or ingesting asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, a deadly cancer within the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen. The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural, which accounts for approximately 70 to 90 percent of all diagnoses. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include chest and back pain, difficulty swallowing, persistent coughing, shortness of breath and fluid around the lungs. In addition to the health risks associated with asbestos exposure, there are also potential legal consequences as a landlord or Property Manager. If asbestos is identified in the building or home, the owner of the property and any representatives are required by law to document and develop an Asbestos Management Plan. Failure to comply with the existing Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) laws, as well as Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws, could potentially put owners and managers at risk for large fines or jail time.

Healthy Space, Healthy Tenant = Happy You

There are a great deal of responsibilities allocated to your position as a Property Manager. In this role, you are often the person in charge of rent issues, finding tenants, handling evictions, maintaining the budget, supervising other employees and, of course, handling maintenance and repairs. Although each of the tasks above are critical, keeping the property safe for tenants is especially crucial. If you suspect the building you manage contains hazardous toxins like asbestos, it is imperative to act appropriately and have the space inspected by a professional. Not only could asbestos impact you legally under OH&S and WHS laws, it could drastically impact the health of you and your tenant. Take time during Global Asbestos Awareness Week to ensure the health of your property, your Property Managers and your tenants. To find out more about the impacts of Asbestos on our health visit the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance website.

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