A new research on asbestos awareness reveals that most Australians understand the dangers of asbestos exposure but do not have the ability to identify asbestos products or manage risks.

Commissioned by the Australian Government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, the large-scale research project conducted by Colmar Brunton examined the knowledge of Australians at risk of potential exposure to asbestos fibres and found that few had the practical skills to identify asbestos products and handle them safely. Colmar Brunton surveyed 2362 tradespeople, DIY renovators, real estate agents, landlords and members of the public to uncover their awareness, attitudes and behaviours towards asbestos.

The quantitative research report was released recently at the two-day International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management held at the Crown Conference Centre in Melbourne.

According to the research report, there was moderate community understanding of the prevalence of asbestos in the built environment, but very few people were confident about their ability to identify asbestos containing materials or situations that could put them at risk of exposure.

While tradespeople generally performed better, many DIY home renovators were found to have carried out work in a potentially dangerous manner, with about half of recent renovations not involving an assessment of asbestos materials that may be present, despite one in five projects subsequently requiring asbestos to be removed.

Worryingly, 36 per cent of DIY renovators reported undertaking the removal of asbestos themselves, rather than using a professional.

While all groups agreed that it was important to be informed about asbestos and its potential dangers, just 61 per cent of DIY renovators and 53 per cent of the general public felt they were appropriately informed about the risks.

Almost one in five tradespeople rated their knowledge of the dangers of asbestos as moderate or below, with only 64 per cent being confident about their ability to identify materials likely to contain asbestos.

The International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management brings together leading international experts in asbestos management, health, advocacy and governance, with a focus on improving asbestos safety and management practices.