LIVES are being put in danger because homes are not being tested for asbestos before renovations begin, industry sources have warned.
The Asbestos Contractors Group says people face serious disease, even death, because there are no laws making it mandatory for homeowners to conduct a hazardous materials audit before they start work.
The group says the absence of auditing heightens the risk of previously unknown quantities of asbestos being disturbed.
"Unfortunately, tradespeople and, quite often, domestic homeowners are being exposed to asbestos when doing their own renovations, simply because they don't know it's there or what it looks like," group spokesman Pat Preston said.
"There's no legislation like there is in the general workplaces for an asbestos audit to be carried out."
Oakleigh South asbestos removalist A Plus Building Solutions says residents are at risk of finding asbestos in their backyard.
A Plus director Kamil Zajac says the company's 24-hour emergency line gets numerous calls.
"A lot of them are initiated by tradies or homeowners who give us a call and say, 'My builder's just stopped work because he thinks he's found asbestos. What do I do?"'
Before the 1980s, materials containing asbestos were common in the building industry.
Breathing in asbestos fibres has since been linked to lung cancer and deadly respiratory diseases such as mesothelioma.
Last year, a Safe Work Australia report found that 660 cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed in Australia in 2007. In the same year, 551 people died of asbestos-related diseases.
In 2010-11, WorkSafe was notified of 7275 jobs carried out by asbestos removalists across the state. The figure included work done at domestic properties and workplaces.
The Weekly asked Southern Health how many asbestos-related illness had been treated at its Monash Medical Centre in the past two years and was told it was an "impossible question to answer".
"We deal with acute respiratory patients and the majority of asbestos-affected individuals are usually symptom-free," one doctor said.
Most asbestos-affected individuals can go decades without showing symptoms.
Mr Preston says the number of asbestos-related cases among home renovators is rising.
"It's not unusual for them to find asbestos up there in the older homes."
Mr Zajac says that even some tradespeople are oblivious to the looming danger.
"You're relying on these guys when they're doing renovations to say, 'Oh, this material could have asbestos. Let's get it tested and do the right thing'.
"But if you get people who are really ignorant of the presence of asbestos, they'll just go about their business as if the material's not there, potentially exposing themselves, their workers and the residents."