Family exposed to asbestos by dodgy bathroom builders

asbestos in bathroom

We've often talked about the need for homeowners to take precautions around possible asbestos when renovating their houses.

We've also talked about the need to make sure any contractors you employ are properly qualified to work around asbestos.

A recent case in Canberra drives home both of these points.

Justin and Erin Thompson had hired a builder to renovate their bathroom. Unfortunately, neither the Thompsons nor their builder had thought about testing the room for asbestos.

As it turns out, the bathroom was full of asbestos sheeting, which the builders were cutting through using angle grinders, then casually leaving the asbestos waste at the front of the house.

The danger this posed for the family only became apparent when a neighbour confronted the builder. When the builder tried to fob the neighbour off, he contacted WorkSafe. (We think that neighbour is a hero!)

Meanwhile, the family had been exposed to asbestos throughout the renovations:

Despite assurances from the builder that the asbestos "was not the dangerous kind", the family will require ongoing annual medical tests for life-threatening illnesses, including mesothelioma.

By "not the dangerous kind", no doubt the builder meant bonded asbestos. But while it's true that bonded asbestos isn't dangerous as long as it's undamaged and undisturbed, as soon as you rip into it with an angle grinder it becomes potentially very dangerous!

Lessons for householders

There are a number of lessons that families can learn from this unfortunate story:

Get a survey

Before starting major renovations, get an asbestos survey from a company like Airsafe. A survey would have clearly identified the danger in the bathroom, and outlined the precautions that needed to be taken.

Don't take your builder's word for it

Don't believe everything builders tell you — especially reassurances that asbestos is "safe"! All asbestos removal should be handled by a qualified  asbestos removal contractor. Airsafe can recommend a good one.

Think about your neighbours too

Asbestos doesn't just affect your family — it can potentially affect your neighbours as well. In this case, it was a neighbour's vigilance that brought the problem to light. But even when asbestos removal is being done correctly, your neighbours might need reassurance — which is one of the reasons we always recommend air quality monitoring during asbestos removal.

We wish the Thompsons well, and we hope their example inspires others to take precautions.

Back to news

Related articles
loose fill asbestos insulation

Loose fill asbestos insulation in NSW homes: What you need to know

21st August 2016

You've probably seen media stories about the discovery of loose fill asbestos insulation in a number of New South Wales homes, and the State Government's decision to offer to buy and demolish those homes.

full article

naturally occurring asbestos

Asbestos management plans and the risk of naturally occurring asbestos

13th May 2016

The discovery of naturally occurring asbestos during council roadworks is a reminder of the need for organisations to have asbestos management plans.

full article

wax crayons

Asbestos found in imported buildings products and children's crayons

24th February 2016

While it's illegal to manufacture or import products containing asbestos, the material has been found recently in products imported from China.

full article

sign of danger asbestos

The truth about occupational asbestos exposure

1st October 2015

If you manage or control a workplace, you need to be aware of regulations about asbestos exposure.

full article

photo of home with asbestos being demolished

Mr Fluffy: demolitions of contaminated homes underway

3rd August 2015

Demolition is currently underway for more than 1,000 Canberra homes contaminated with Mr Fluffy loose-fill asbestos.

full article