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Asbestos Cement Roofs

Asbestos cement roofing sheets are a feature of our lives. We probably all know what they look like, and in fact we may have come across this type of roof in our daily lives.

Asbestos cement roofs were invented at the end of the 19th century. Initially, the roofs were introduced to make inexpensive but sturdy military housing, however, after WW2 they continued to be used widely as external cladding for buildings.

The ‘advantages’ of this roofing type were that they were seen as an inexpensive and fireproof alternative to other roofing materials, and so were seen as safer and more affordable than other roof types, as well as being more lightweight than comparable materials.

The material was mainly formed into corrugated or flat sheets but was also moulded into any shape, including piping and actually any shape that wet asbestos cement could be made into. It is perhaps not widely known that the asbestos fibres were most widely used in roofing sheets in Australia and New Zealand. The reinforcing fibres contained in the cement was almost always asbestos.

When exposed to weathering, erosion and often impact damage, these cement sheets become brittle, creating fractures within the material. This ultimately makes the roofing sheets fragile, equating to unstable surfaces both in terms of asbestos fibre release and the structural stability of the material itself.

This roofing type was widely used across industrial, domestic and agricultural buildings. Typically it was used as roofing, however, it was also moulded into rainwater goods and side walling for numerous building types. It was also used for partition walls, window sills, and under roof sheeting.

The advantages of the material were obvious; fire resistant, inexpensive, lightweight and widely available. Consequently, there are a significant number of these roofs across the world, and they are now becoming brittle, unsafe and incapable of being easily repaired.

In many respects, it could be argued that these roofs have expired beyond their life expectancy. They are likely to have been subject to alterations and impact, weathering and intentional damage by virtue of necessary alterations to the roof sheets. The internal elevations of many of these properties might have chrysotile dust within the atmosphere and on surfaces as a consequence of this gradual erosion and impact damage. 

By this time, of course, these roofs will have been surveyed, hopefully by a competent asbestos surveying organization, and it should be the case that the internal elevations, surfaces and perhaps even the air quality has been checked in the cases where the roof surfaces are in poor condition. 

Merely undertaking a visual Reinspection of these roofs is difficult; access issues, surface materials (including moss) restrict what you can see. The corrugated versions of these roofs present additional difficulties in terms of the ability to properly view the full roofing surface. As the roof surface degrades, the potential for the Annual Reinspection to notice this before it becomes a dangerous roof might be made more awkward by virtue of not being able to get onto the roof itself.

Access equipment can provide a degree of closer visibility but is often just as problematic because of surface material restricting the ability of the surveyor to see the cement roof itself. The solution could be, depending on the location and physical restrictions, a drone survey which gets closer to the cement outside but could also be used internally depending on the design of the building and the location of the surface(s). 

At Ensafe, we used a mixture of options to ensure we have undertaken a thorough inspection;

1.      We have access equipment to achieve reach to most heights;

2.      We use drone surveys operated by qualified, experienced asbestos surveyors;

3.      We always undertake thorough internal surface checks;

4.      We may recommend an Air Test if we suspect there is an issue with fibre release;

5.      We provide you with full visibility of the process & the outcomes.

Find out more by contacting one of our regional offices, or email us at [email protected]

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