Banned in Australia since 2003, asbestos within the home, including the fuse box, has been a known risk for many years. So why are people especially alarmed?
There are two main reasons. Since the pandemic lockdowns provided ample time for owners to notice their home maintenance issues and start tackling them, many more people have jumped aboard the DIY home reno train.
Continued bouts of rain causing issues from damp walls to extensive flood damage are the other reason. Water damage and residual moisture can corrode electrical systems, posing serious risks, and also expose asbestos issues.
Taking on the asbestos problem is the job of professionals, not DIYers. In Australia, it is now illegal to penetrate asbestos backing boards by drilling or screwing into them. This means if any additional or new electrical work is required it would need the entire backing board and old meters replaced before any work could be carried out legally, for example, new circuits, upgrading hot water, new lighting or power points.
Outlined below is a bit more information about this important topic.
How do I know if I have asbestos in my fuse box?
The fuse box (or electrical switch box or meter box) contains the main switch, switchboard (household circuits) and circuit breakers. Different elements of these can harbour asbestos.
The only way to find out for sure, and in a safe manner, is to get an assessment.
Testing must be conducted by a licensed asbestos lab. Your professional electrician can outline the procedure to follow for engaging an assessor.
Advice on finding an approved assessor in NSW is on the government website. You will need licensed asbestos professionals to remove and dispose of identified asbestos.
Is my home likely to have asbestos at all?
If you are curious about whether your home is a candidate for asbestos, consider these factors:
- If your home was built or renovated before 2004, (when asbestos was banned in Australia) it “quite probably has asbestos-containing materials” . Asbestos was used in over 3000 building products before the ban. There is also some risk posed by items imported illegally that originate from countries with lower standards.
- Some items may have a label, WARNING: CONTAINS ASBESTOS. However, items without the sign can still contain asbestos.
- Asbestos fibres are 50 to 200 times thinner than a human hair so you can’t see them. The fibre has no taste or smell. Asbestos looks or smells like whatever material it is mixed with, and whatever colour that material is painted.
- There is no known safe level of exposure for asbestos, but non-friable (bonded) asbestos that is in good condition is a lower risk than friable asbestos.
Asbestos in the fuse box and electrical wiring
Dealing with asbestos in the fuse box is a job for professionals and repairing or replacing a fuse box requires a licensed electrician to start with. Your electrician can outline the procedure and some of the issues involved.
Following are some of the areas where asbestos can be found within the fuse box.
- The bituminous electrical backing board or panel backing your fuse box may contain asbestos.
- Some fuses contain friable asbestos, which may be inside the fuse carrier. High voltage striker fuses may contain asbestos in the washers and ropes at the non-striking end of the fuse. Striker fuses completely sealed and immersed in oil are low risk.
- Circuit breakers that are ex-electricity commission in NSW usually have silver-coloured covers that don’t contain asbestos.
- Moulded cement sheets in the form of bituminous boards used in electrical work may contain asbestos.
- Electrical cable coverings (high and low voltage) may contain asbestos. It may look like a fibrous bandage around the cable.
Certain branded products raise an early alarm, but seek expert advice. These include Henley and Federal fuses that have friable asbestos – they were used in the 1960s on electricity meter boards; Westinghouse 11kV J18/B18 family of circuit breakers that have friable asbestos in the covers; and South Wales 11kV DX4 breakers and 33kV GCN breakers that may contain non-friable asbestos.
Recommended first steps
The NSW government’s website includes an Asbestos Finder with current information and details of licensed asbestos assessors. The Asbestos and Health Risks factsheet details some impacts of asbestos exposure.
The information contained in this update is of a general nature only. Contact Curran Plumbing and Electrical today for more information and to book a service call.