Whenever a building is slated for renovation or demolition, it must undergo an assessment to determine if there are hazardous materials present in the building materials. Hazardous building materials refer to asbestos, mould, lead, and silica.
How Does a Hazmat Assessment Work?
All materials within a building are investigated – including but not limited to walls, ceilings, flooring, pipes, boilers and sealants. Other items like fluorescent lights, ballasts, refrigerators, and thermostats are investigated as well for the presence of hazardous materials, such as mercury, PCBs, and ozone-depleting substances.
After a thorough assessment, any hazardous materials identified need to be removed before the renovation or demolition can proceed. This is done to protect not only the workers in the building, but any person or business surrounding the site, and any future occupants of the space.
No matter how thorough an assessment is, there is a high chance that some materials will be missed – not at the fault of the investigator, but because they were hidden at the time of the investigation.
What Does Hidden Materials Mean?
When a building assessment is taking place, there is only so much investigating that can occur. Budget and time are two huge limiting factors when it comes to conducting a hazardous materials assessment. Of course, the more money and time one has, the more thorough, complete, and intense an assessment can be. Even so, every single wall and ceiling tile cannot be inspected, and extrapolations and assumptions must be made. This is generally acceptable, as long as the assumptions follow the guidelines outlined in the codes and legislation (such as the Alberta Asbestos Abatement Manual (2019)).
Hidden areas such as crawlspaces and wall cavities also exist– rendering some materials inaccessible, like pipe runs and insulation. As well, sometimes materials can be hidden under multiple layers, which only become uncovered during renovation/demolition activities. It is common to see multiple layers of drywall and flooring in a building because it is much simpler to cover up the old hazardous building material instead of removing it.
Renovation/Demolition Process Must Stop
When hidden or previously unidentified materials are found during renovation/demolition activities, all work MUST stop. Work cannot resume until the discovered material is identified, and/or dealt with properly by trained and certified individuals. Hidden or unidentified materials are to be assumed hazardous until proven otherwise. These are industry best practices for everyone’s health and safety.
While discovering hidden materials during renovation and demolition work is not ideal, it is a factor in doing that kind of work. Most of the time, it is simply a guessing game as to what the original builders were doing when constructing a building. Therefore, workers who are renovating or demolishing it must do their best to deal with obstacles as they arise; whether it is hidden materials or something else that comes up in the process. Your organization should have plans and procedures in place for when this kind of thing happens.
It is always preferable to consult with experienced and certified professionals whenever a hazardous materials survey is needed – having the right people for the job will save time and money in the long run.