Commencing in February 2019, the Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce has undertaken a wide-ranging review into how asbestos is identified, managed and disposed of across the broader Latrobe Valley region. The Taskforce, which numbers 18 member organisations including state government, local councils, unions and community groups, has presented a total of 21 Recommendations to the Victorian Government this week.
“These recommendations are about minimising the risks of asbestos exposure by increasing awareness and training, developing behaviour change programs, strengthening current regulations and adding new ones where gaps have been identified” said Chair of the Taskforce, Latrobe Health Advocate Jane Anderson.
“The most-needed change identified by the Taskforce is the management of asbestos in residential properties. There is no clear line of authority, and it is very concerning that across all sectors of the community, the real impacts and risks of asbestos exposure are not fully understood.
“The absence of one central body that takes responsibility for residential asbestos means that people don’t know where to go for help, and so they can’t readily access the information needed.
“With 4,500 Australians known to die every year from asbestos-related disease, it is absolutely essential that information and education programs are implemented as soon as possible.”
The recommendations also include new restrictions to the way homeowners handle any asbestos-containing materials on their own properties, to align with the rules that contractors must follow.
“While there have been safeguards in place for many years for workers who may come into contact with asbestos, unfortunately these have not been extended to our homes,” said Ms Anderson, “and we know there is far more asbestos in our homes than in our workplaces.
“It is a significant problem that is not going away. The implementation of these recommendations will change the approach to managing legacy asbestos right across the whole state, and will result in lives being saved.”
The Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce has undertaken four surveys since 2019, and this latest report has tracked changes in awareness and attitudes towards asbestos over that time.
“It remains very concerning that not all homes are being checked for asbestos prior to any works on the property, when homes built before 1990 are likely to contain asbestos somewhere,” said Chair of the Taskforce, Latrobe Health Advocate Jane Anderson.
“Adding to this concern is that fewer than one in five are being checked by an asbestos professional.
“We are hopeful there will be change in this space, as the Breathtaking Renovations video produced by the Taskforce, which has been shown online and also broadcast on TV in Gippsland, has proven to be a successful way to raise awareness.
“58% who saw the video or TV commercial have said they are now more likely to stop and think about where asbestos could be in their home.”
Other positive results from the survey include the decline in the number of people since 2019 who say they are confident in identifying asbestos-containing materials (from 39% in 2019 to 22% in 2022). This highlights the increased understanding that asbestos was used in an enormous range of products, over 3,000, and not just in asbestos-cement sheet. While many once believed that asbestos only poses a risk if it is disturbed, this has now fallen from 63% in 2019 to 24% in 2022.
“It is also pleasing that more people are now aware that asbestos needs to be maintained in good condition, and that it is a risk if it is left to degrade because it can release deadly fibres,” said Ms Anderson.
“While there are some positive changes, we need to continue building awareness around the dangers of asbestos. Too many people are undertaking home renovation activities without any asbestos awareness training.
“It is important the whole community understands that we all need to be mindful of asbestos and take it seriously. Asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer, ovarian cancer, mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases, which has a devastating impact on families and communities. More than 4500 Australians die each year from asbestos-related disease. This is completely preventable if proper precautions are taken.”
Key statistics from the survey:
83% agree it is important for them to know about asbestos and its related dangers
54% respondents have been involved in renovations on properties built before 1990
33% renovating properties built before 1990 are assessing for asbestos themselves
14% DIY home renovators have had formal asbestos training.
The Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce has produced a report that estimates the total volume of legacy asbestos found in workplaces, shops, hospitality venues, health centres and hospitals, community and government buildings, and light-medium industrial properties including farms. This study complements a 2020 report produced by the Taskforce about asbestos remaining in residential properties across the region.
“It is estimated that there is 1.9 million square metres of legacy asbestos-containing materials across the three municipalities studied,” said Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce Chair and Latrobe Health Advocate Jane Anderson, “which is about the same land area size as Melbourne’s central business district.”
“Whilst the most well-known asbestos product, asbestos cement sheet, accounts for 90% of the total volume, it may surprise some to learn that the next highest is found in vinyl products such as vinyl sheets, tiles and adhesives.
“Asbestos was used in over 3,000 products and that is why all workplaces are required by law to have an asbestos register that identifies where asbestos products are located. This register must be maintained and updated at least every five years.”
The previous study undertaken by the Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce into legacy asbestos in residential properties revealed a total of 3.1 million square metres across the same three municipalities, which is significantly higher than the total volume found in this new report into all other buildings.
“Asbestos really is more common than we think. It was used widely up until 1990 and it is a concern that it is still in many of our workplaces, our homes, the buildings we frequent every day,” said Ms Anderson.
“We all need to do more to understand and protect ourselves from the risks of asbestos exposure, and we need more programs and initiatives to address the challenges we will face into the future as these very large volumes of asbestos products deteriorate and release deadly fibres.
“Asbestos causes cancer, and by minimising the risks of asbestos exposure, lives will be saved. It is totally preventable.”
“This latest survey shows that three out of five (60%) people have renovated properties built before 1990,” said Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce Chair and Latrobe Health Advocate Jane Anderson.
“The question is that while 74% of homes across the Latrobe Valley region still contain asbestos, are people taking the precautions necessary to prevent risks of asbestos exposure?”
The survey report reveals that 37% DIY home renovators are doing their own asbestos assessments, but only 12% have undertaken asbestos training.
Asbestos was used in over 3,000 building products and the Taskforce has been active in raising awareness of the risks through the production of a new “Breathtaking Renovations” video, which also aired on television recently in Gippsland.
“The Breathtaking Renovations video shows a number of common places where asbestos can be found in the home,” said Ms Anderson, “and it is encouraging to see that the confidence levels people have in their own ability to identify asbestos products has decreased significantly since the first survey in 2019, from 39% to 23%. This means more people are aware that it’s really hard to know all the places it could be, so it’s best to call in a professional to check.
“Asbestos can be very dangerous if not managed properly, and we all need to think twice about asbestos before drilling a hole in a wall, sanding the eaves, pulling up lino or knocking down the old shed in the backyard.
“It really is more common than we think. The latest study soon to be published by the Taskforce to estimate the volumes of asbestos remaining in workplaces across the Latrobe Valley shows that while the volumes are very large, there is still far more asbestos in our homes than in our workplaces.
“In National Asbestos Awareness Week, we encourage people to contact a licensed asbestos removalist before renovating any property built before 1990. In the Latrobe Valley, many lives have been lost to asbestos-related disease, and there is a risk that more will be lost if people aren’t taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves, their neighbours and their loved ones,” said Ms Anderson.
Asbestos-containing materials were routinely used in the construction of residential buildings up until 1990, and it is estimated that three in four homes across the Latrobe Valley region still contain asbestos today.
This is the second survey conducted by the Taskforce, and it confirms the findings of the first survey with regards to the levels of understanding around the risks of asbestos exposure in Latrobe Valley homes.
“While many people are aware of the dangers of asbestos, some still believe that it only presents a risk if it is disturbed,” said Chair of the Taskforce, Latrobe Health Advocate Jane Anderson.
“As asbestos products are nearing the end of their life cycle, they are naturally degrading and may be releasing deadly asbestos fibres.
“It is also concerning that a large number of homes built before 1990 are still not being checked for asbestos before renovations. We know that DIY home renovation is a very popular activity, and some people may not know that they could be putting themselves, their families and their neighbours at risk.
“Some know that asbestos is commonly found in places such as eaves, wall linings, and in wet areas, but do not know that is also frequently found in vinyl floor underlays and backings, and was also used in flooring adhesive, window sealants and the electrical meter box.
“There are so many instances where asbestos can be found, it is impossible to understand the risks without undertaking asbestos awareness training.
“The survey found that only 13% DIY home renovators have undertaken formal training, and worryingly, two out of five said they planned to undertake renovations on properties built before 1990 in the next 12 months.
“This year, the largest group of DIY home renovators was found to be women aged 50 – 54, and so we know that home renovation activities are very popular with women, too.
“We encourage everyone to contact a professional to check for asbestos before works commence to minimise the risk of developing lung cancer, mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases. There is a lot of information available on the Asbestos in Victoria website, and you can also contact your local council,” said Ms Anderson.
It has been found that almost three in four (74%) homes in the Latrobe Valley region are likely to contain asbestos – significantly higher than the national average of one in three homes.
“What this report shows is that it is more important now than ever to increase awareness of the risks of asbestos exposure,” said Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce Chair and Latrobe Health Advocate Jane Anderson.
“More than 4,000 people die each year from asbestos-related disease, and Australia is seeing a third wave of asbestos victims who are mostly DIY home renovators.
“Almost every home built before 1990 has asbestos somewhere, and the risk of asbestos exposure can be minimised by understanding where asbestos is commonly found in the home, and what to do if you need to remove asbestos,” said Ms Anderson.
The table below shows the comparison in each municipality of asbestos-containing materials.
Total volume (m2)
% all dwellings with asbestos
Volume per capita (m2)
Baw Baw Shire
Asbestos-containing materials are commonly found in the eaves of the home, and in wet areas including bathrooms, laundries and kitchens. There is also a significant amount of asbestos-containing materials found in outbuildings such as sheds and garages.
“We believe this is the first time a model for calculating the volume of legacy asbestos in residential properties has been developed in Australia. We expect and encourage other jurisdictions to use it to determine the corresponding health risks to the wider community.”
“The findings in this report have informed the development of the Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce Year One recommendations, which we have today presented to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio. There are four key recommendations, all of which are aimed at reducing the risk of asbestos exposure and saving lives,” said Ms Anderson.
Recommendation #1 – Asbestos removal only permitted on residential properties in prescribed circumstances.
Recommendation #2 – Compulsory asbestos awareness training for specified occupations.
Recommendation #3 – Notice of intent to undertake demolition work to be made compulsory.
Recommendation #4 – Provision of an Asbestos status certificate/report compulsory on the sale or rental of a residential property built before 1990.
“In Asbestos Awareness Week, we remember the many lives lost to this dangerous substance, and urge people to be mindful of asbestos when doing any home improvement jobs. Asbestos can’t be identified by sight, it needs to be tested and the first step is to contact a licensed asbestos removalist. You can visit the asbestos.vic.gov.au website to find out more,” said Ms Anderson.
Quote attributed to The Hon Lily D’Ambrosio, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, and Minister for Solar Homes:
“I welcome this report and will review the recommendations. I’d like to thank the taskforce for their important work into this crucial issue for the Latrobe Valley.”