Create a 'Homesafe' to deal with asbestos threat, expert says

"We've got a Worksafe. To me, the big question is why we don't have a Homesafe," asbestos expert Jason Catterall says.

Following revelations that there were around 40,000 homes in Canterbury containing asbestos, new regulations were created to reduce the chances of tradespeople and homeowners being exposed to airborne asbestos fibres, which can lead to cancer in later life, and an early death.

But while Worksafe has focused its efforts on lifting asbestos management by builders, tradespeople and owners of commercial buildings, the family home has largely been left out.
Many homeowners struggle to identify asbestos in their homes, and have to rely on tradespeople to spot it for them.
 

An unscientific online poll by Stuff indicated two-thirds of people would not back themselves to identify building materials containing asbestos.

?Catterall said asbestos trainers had so far identified 3800 different products containing asbestos that had been used in New Zealand homes and commercial buildings.

Asbestos is a mineral that was used to produce fire resistant building materials, but in dust form, its fibres can lodge in the lungs, and cause life-shortening diseases.
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Asbestos is a mineral that was used to produce fire resistant building materials, but in dust form, its fibres can lodge in the lungs, and cause life-shortening diseases.

A great deal more effort was needed to lift public awareness, and to manage asbestos risk in people's homes, Catterall believed.

"It can be managed. It's not the grim reaper in itself. It's when it is abused that it becomes dangerous," he said.

Left alone, most asbestos is not a health danger, but when asbestos fibres released into the air, through cutting, sanding, water-blasting or product deterioration, it poses a health threat, though diseases like the cancer mesothelioma, caused by breathing in asbestos dust, can take decades to appear.

 

It's New Zealand's largest workplace killer, resulting in 170 deaths a year, larger of older people who were exposed to asbestos during their working lives, though researchers in Australia, which was an even more enthusiastic user of asbestos than New Zealand, a wave of asbestos-related disease due to exposure through DIY is building.

"People spend a third of their lives at work, which is why we have Worksafe, but we are not protecting them for the two-thirds of their lives not spent at work," Catterall said.

"The Government should put their hands in their pockets and have an equivalent of worksafe for the home. Let's call it Homesafe. Why isn't there a homesafe?"

Commercial building owners, and residential landlords, have a duty to identify asbestos in their properties, and have an asbestos management plan for any work they have done, though Catterall said two years' after the law was brought in, some still do not have them.

"Most of the asbestos surveys we are now doing are for commercial real estate people trying to sell their places," he said.

Asbestos can be found in many places in the home.
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Asbestos can be found in many places in the home.

?Catterall believed New Zealand needed to do more to manage asbestos, and that meant including the family home.

That was already happening to a certain extent, as local councils are increasingly expecting asbestos surveys and removal when consenting home renovations, but Catterall would like to see all homes progressively mapped for asbestos.

That would happen over a relatively short number of years, if every time a property was put on the market, an asbestos survey had to be made available to buyers.

The money to pay for the surveys could come from the commission paid to real estate agents, which has spiked in recent years as property prices have risen.

?"You are paying a real estate agent $30,000 in commission. Let's make it part of their responsibilities to provide it," Catterall said.

Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/110836839/create-a-homesafe-to-deal-with-asbestos-threat-expert-says

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