Pressure cleaning asbestos roofs – safety alert
SafeWork NSW has responded to a number of incidents where high pressure water cleaners have been used on roofs containing asbestos. If asbestos materials are sealed, undisturbed and in a good stable condition, they are unlikely to pose a health risk. However, if they are disturbed by tools like high pressure water cleaners, released asbestos fibres can be harmful to the health of anyone who inhales them. If you’re working around asbestos, you need to be safe. Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma. Around 4000 Australian’s die every year from asbestos related diseases, usually from exposure to asbestos many years before. Recently, a roof restoration contractor who didn’t know roof sheeting contained asbestos, used a high-pressure water cleaner to wash the roof, causing asbestos contamination to both inside and outside the home and to neighbouring properties. The resident’s belongings had to be tested for contamination and anything that tested positive for asbestos was disposed of. Residents from nearby properties were also required to leave their homes during the clean-up process and couldn’t return until remediation was complete and clearance certificates issued by a licensed Asbestos Assessor. In this instance, the clean-up costs were over $400,000. There are different types of asbestos containing roofs including, corrugated roofs (also known as Super 6 roofs) and shingled roofs. Other asbestos containing roof materials include gutters, down pipes, eaves, ridge and barge capping. High pressure water damages the surface of these products allowing for asbestos fibres to be released into the air, putting your health, workers and that of your neighbours at risk. The solution is simple. If you are planning on cleaning or renovating an older roof, check whether the roof, gutters, down pipes, ridge and barge capping contain asbestos. If your roof contains asbestos, the best solution is to replace it. If that’s not an option, a fungicide and sealant can be applied to clean the roof surface, prior to re-painting. Certain paints already contain fungicides and don’t require the roof surface to be cleaned first. Any work on a roof should always be done by a competent licensed professional. Never use high pressure water, compressed air or even a garden hose with a trigger attachment, on products containing asbestos. You should also be aware that roofs containing asbestos can be brittle, making them easy to fall through, so you need to ensure those working on roofs have appropriate precautions in place such as walking and work platforms, scaffolds and fall arrest restraints. If you are not sure whether a roof or other product is constructed with asbestos then contact a licensed asbestos assessor to inspect it before doing anything. A listing of licensed asbestos assessors can be found on the SafeWork website.