The man at the head of a new government asbestos agency has warned that home renovators and DIY heroes will keep Australia’s asbestos-related death toll rising until the 2030s.
Former Communications, Electrical, Plumbing Union boss Peter Tighe, now CEO of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, says the trend for do-it-yourself renovations is creating a growing “fourth wave” of asbestos victims.
He told the inaugural National Asbestos Forum in Sydney on Monday it was generally predicted that rates of deadly conditions like mesothelioma would peak in about 2020.
“The way it’s going, unless this agency can turn the process around (the peak will probably occur) further down the track, somewhere around 2030,” Mr Tighe told the forum.
Training was “critical” to his agency’s strategy for wiping out asbestos-related deaths, he said.
He told reporters that could include requiring home renovators to achieve a basic level of competence and asbestos awareness before they could be issued an owner-builder licence.
Critics in the audience said that approach risked leading homeowners to believe they knew what they were doing based on limited information.
Wendy Tredinnick, the managing director of South Australian firm Total Asbestos Services, said she met unsuspecting renovators on an almost-weekly basis.
“Six months ago I had a young woman come into my office with a baby on her hip, literally crying,” she said on Monday.
“She said, ‘I’ve just been down to the hardware store to buy more scrapers, and the guy down there said, are you sure it’s not asbestos vinyl you’re trying to scrape up?'”
A sample analysis showed it was.
“She said, ‘I’ve been in there with my children, my sister and her children have been in there,'” Ms Tredinnick said.
“‘Why aren’t people doing something about this?'”
Mr Tighe said he didn’t want renovators to think they were fully trained simply because someone had “given them a leaflet”, but many were taking risks already.
“The problem is that it’s happening anyway,” he said.