Fires in Australia Causing Potential Asbestos Hazards – RMA available 24 hours to help

With major fires affecting many regions of Australia, we are reminded of the dangers of fire and asbestos.

What should I do if my house contains asbestos and is now burnt?  What do I do if I am not sure?

The DECCW provides guidance on what to look out for and also included is a useful diagram of where asbestos may be found in the home.

Which buildings are likely to contain asbestos?

Buildings built before 1988 may contain asbestos in the form of flat or corrugated sheets (‘fibro’) used for walls, ceilings and roofing, or in products such as pipes, electrical conduit and eaves.  Please also refer to the diagram below “Where Asbestos May be Found in a Typical Home”

What is the health risk from fire damaged buildings containing asbestos?

Asbestos dust and fibres have the potential to present a health risk during and after a fire if not properly managed. The presence of asbestos in ash and rubble does not pose a health risk itself, however airborne asbestos fibres may pose a risk to those inhaling them. The use of water or foam in controlling a fire helps prevent fibres from becoming airborne.

What precautions should be taken immediately after fire?

To prevent access to the area which may contain asbestos the site should be securely fenced. The site will need to be continually damped down so as not to cause runoff or sprayed with PVA to ensure that the asbestos cannot become airborne. This needs to continue until the site is cleaned up.

What precautions should be taken during clean-up of a fire-damaged building containing asbestos?

Asbestos fibres released from broken or disintegrated sheeting may be present in the dust and ash of fire-damaged buildings. Care should be taken when moving burnt material to minimise the generation of dust. If burnt material needs to be moved it should be dampened first to reduce dust.

Depending on the extent of fire damage, the asbestos present can be classified as either friable or bonded. Asbestos sheets that are severely damaged or reduced to ash are likely to be friable, whereas asbestos that is intact or has suffered smoke damage only is likely to be classified as bonded.

The following precautionary measures are recommended during the clean-up of fire-damaged buildings containing asbestos:

  • An occupational hygienist should undertake a site assessment and determine an appropriateclean-up program.
  • Asbestos should be removed by an asbestos removal contractor with an ASA Licence for friable asbestos or an ASB for bonded asbestos issued by WorkCover NSW.
  • Warning signs should be erected to discourage people from entering the site.
  • Access to the immediate site should be limited to those involved in the clean-up. They are required to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (i.e. suitable respirator or dust mask and disposable coveralls). At completion, all personal protective equipment is to be disposed of as asbestos waste.
  • Ensure the site is kept damp at all times, particularly while debris is being removed.

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