Asbestos and Home Renovators
A recent South Australian court case provides a reminder of the danger that asbestos continues to pose to home renovators.
Matthew Werfel is a 42 year old man who developed the terminal asbestos related cancer malignant mesothelioma in 2017. He was awarded compensation by the South Australian Employment Court in July 2019. He was exposed to asbestos as a young man, including while renovating two houses, in 2000 and 2004. In the course of these renovations he unsuspectingly worked on asbestos cement sheets that were in place on the houses, including as eave linings, gable ends and wall cladding. Some of these asbestos cement sheets had been in place since the houses were constructed in the 1960s. Mr Werfel did not know that the sheets contained asbestos.
Asbestos cement sheets were widely used as a building material in South Australia until about the mid-1980s.
James Hardie was involved in the manufacture and sale of asbestos cement sheets in South Australia between the 1940s and the 1980s. These sheets were a popular building material as they were relatively low-cost, transportable and easy to work with. They also suited the South Australian climate. The result is that many asbestos cement sheets are still in situ on buildings throughout South Australia. They are commonly found as cladding on buildings, as well as eave linings, gable ends, fencing, roofs and as linings in bathrooms, toilets and laundries. Asbestos cement sheets were also often used as an underlay under flooring.
James Hardie stopped using asbestos in its manufacture of fibre cement sheets in the early to mid-1980s. However, the company continued to market its non-asbestos products using many of the same brand names (which include names such as Hardiflex, Hardiplank, Versilux and Villaboard) and the appearance of these non-asbestos products are often similar to their asbestos containing predecessors. This can lead to confusion about which products contain asbestos and which don’t. It is often not possible to tell whether a fibre cement sheet contains asbestos simply by looking at it.
Studies are showing that home renovators are forming an increasing percentage of people being diagnosed with mesothelioma, and it is important to be aware of the serious health risks associated with working with asbestos. Mesothelioma can develop after even low doses of exposure to asbestos dust, such as that associated with sanding, painting, cutting, drilling and breaking up asbestos cement sheets.
Home renovators may be unaware that their property contains asbestos sheets. As a general rule, it should be assumed that any property manufactured before 1985 is likely to have had asbestos products used on it and it is important to have fibre cement sheet tested for the presence of asbestos before undertaking working on it. There are also strict requirements for the safe disposal of asbestos sheets.
The South Australian Government has established a website to help residents identify where asbestos may be used on their properties and what to do when you think you have encountered asbestos. This website can be accessed at www.asbestos.sa.gov.au.
Why trust Johnston Withers Lawyers as Your Asbestos Lawyer?
Johnston Withers Lawyers have specialized lawyers with experience in handling mesothelioma compensation claims in South Australia.
We have permanent offices in Adelaide, Port Augusta, Whyalla, Murray Bridge and Clare, and we service Roxby Downs on a regular basis.
If you need advice or direction from an asbestos lawyer, please call us on (08) 8231 1110 or get in touch online to schedule a consultation.