Asbestos - Frequently asked questions

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This page contains frequently asked questions on asbestos.

I’m not sure which WA agency would best help me with my asbestos query.

What products might asbestos be found in?

  • Asbestos cement products such as building materials ('fibro'), fences, switchboards and roofing 
  • Sprayed on insulation and acoustic applications 
  • Buildings, ships and other structures 
  • Vinyl asbestos floor tiles 
  • Laboratory tabletops 
  • Heater banks (air-conditioning ducts) 
  • Roofing felts 
  • Suspended ceiling tiles 
  • Friction materials (brake pads, shoes, etc) 
  • Industrial gaskets 
  • Naturally occurring ores/soils
  • Fire doors and other fire resistant materials
  • Soils due to past land uses.  

To check if a material contains asbestos, you can have a sample tested by a NATA accredited laboratory. Fees and analysis times may vary between laboratories. 

What is friable asbestos?

Friable asbestos is asbestos in the form of a powder, or which is soft and crumbles under hand pressure. Examples include asbestos pipe insulation and the paper like backing on asbestos backed vinyl sheet flooring. Non-friable asbestos containing material, such as asbestos cement sheet, can become friable in some circumstances (eg if involved in a severe fire).  

Is asbestos banned in Australia?

Yes, the importation and use of asbestos in Australia was banned from December 31st 2003. All uses of asbestos are banned except for the following:

  • genuine research or analysis;
  • sampling and identification in accordance with the WHS (General) Regulations 2022;
  • maintenance or service work of non-friable asbestos installed before 31 December 2003;
  • removal or disposal of asbestos (including demolition) in accordance with WHS (General) Regulations 2022;
  • transport and disposal of asbestos or asbestos waste in accordance with the Environmental Protection Act 1986;
  • demonstrations, education or training in relation to asbestos;
  • display or preparation for display of an artifact or thing that contains asbestos;
  • management of asbestos in accordance with the WHS (General) Regulations 2022 that was installed or fixed before 31 December 2003;
  • work that disturbs asbestos during mining operations involving the extraction of or exploration for a mineral other than asbestos;
  • laundering of asbestos contaminated clothing in accordance with WHS (General) Regulations 2022

What are the health risks from asbestos exposure?

Exposure to airborne asbestos fibres can cause diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The risk depends on factors such as the concentration of respirable asbestos fibres inhaled, the frequency of exposure, fibre type and genetic factors.   Asbestos – a guide for householders and the general public is a national publication on asbestos, providing information on risk and safe handling.  This is a risk management document and is designed to assist householders reduce the risks associated with exposure to asbestos fibres. It was developed by the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth), in consultation with technical experts and with input from other government agencies. Below is an extract from this publication on Asbestos-related risk of disease.

Asbestos-related risk of disease
Asbestos-related risk of disease, by EnHealth
Asbestos-related risk of disease, by EnHealth

 

Removal and disposal

Do I require a licence to remove asbestos at a workplace?

Removal of any amount of friable asbestos must be done by a person or business with a Class A asbestos removal licence.

More than 10 square metres of non-friable asbestos containing material must be removed by a licensed and trained individual or business with either a Class A or Class B asbestos removal licence. 

Ten square metres or less of bonded (non-friable) asbestos can be removed without a licence.

Cleaning up asbestos after cyclones/floods - what should I know?

Floods and severe storms can badly soil or damage asbestos-containing materials used in the construction of buildings. This damage can result in the asbestos containing material needing to be cleaned or removed. In Western Australia high pressure water cleaning of asbestos containing products is prohibited as this may release asbestos fibres from the structure which may then be breathed in. Under certain conditions a licenced asbestos removalist must conduct the work when the asbestos materials are beyond cleaning and require removal. Further information can be found –

How should bushfire affected asbestos be handled?

Working on buildings that are bushfire-affected may present a risk of exposure to asbestos. During a bushfire, asbestos containing materials can degrade and become friable (crumbles under hand pressure), increasing the risk of asbestos fibres being released into the air. Asbestos was used commonly in building materials prior to 1990. In Western Australia, asbestos affected by fire to a point where it is friable can only be removed by the holder of a Class A asbestos licence. Further information can be found at these links –

Does fire damaged non-friable (bonded) asbestos require a Class A licence holder to remove it?

When non-friable asbestos containing material (ACM) is damaged by fire, the matrix holding the material together may break down and deteriorate.  This may result in the material becoming friable in nature. Friable asbestos can readily release asbestos fibres into the air, which can create an increased risk to health.

A number of factors are associated with the likelihood of non-friable material becoming friable in a fire, including the temperature of the fire and the length of exposure. Where non-friable ACM has been exposed to and potentially damaged by fire an assessment of the material by a competent person should be conducted to determine if the material is now friable or non-friable.

Under the Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022, there is a requirement for all friable asbestos removal works to be conducted by a Class A asbestos removal licence holder.

Fire-damaged asbestos is an issue that involves both State and Local Government. Local Government Environmental Health Officers hold delegated responsibilities (delegated by the Department of Health), under the Health (Asbestos) Regulations 1992. Further information relating to this, please contact your local government agency or refer to the ‘Guidance note on the management of fire damaged asbestos’ from the Department of Health.

How do I dispose of asbestos products?

Transport and disposal of asbestos waste must be in accordance with all relevant State legislation and guidelines. Regulation 472 requires that asbestos waste is contained and labelled in accordance with Schedule 9 clause 8 of the Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022 and disposed of as soon as practicable at a site authorised to accept asbestos waste. The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency has a handy search function which helps users find a nearby asbestos disposal facility. 

What is the minimum level of personal protective equipment required to people to remove asbestos products?

As a minimum all people involved with asbestos removal should wear disposable coveralls, lace-less easy to clean boots, and a class P2 reusable or / disposable respirator.  

Can power tools be used to remove bonded asbestos products?

Tools used to remove bonded asbestos products such as asbestos cement sheeting must be non–powered or be a portable power tool incorporating dust suppression or dust extraction attachments designed to collect asbestos fibres. 

Where non-powered tools are not sufficient to remove metal fixings, power tools can be used provided the cutting edge does not contact the asbestos containing material.

I have had asbestos removed and fragments have been left behind. What can be done to have this cleaned up?

Firstly, speak with the contractor who conducted the removal work if possible, explain the situation and ask if they can return to remove the fragments. If they refuse to do so, and the issue is minor, the most practical way forward is to collect the fragments as outlined below. If there is a significant amount of debris remaining, and the removal was conducted by a paid worker or contractor, you can report the concern to WorkSafe.

After an asbestos removal job, WorkSafe recommends the asbestos removalist and client walk through the removal area together, so that both parties are satisfied the site is visually clear of asbestos containing material. 

Asbestos cement sheets have been taken down and left on site, is this acceptable?

Asbestos cement sheets, once removed, should be double wrapped and disposed of as soon as practicable. However, during the removal and disposal process it may be necessary to leave materials on site in the short term provided they are protected from damage. If such materials have been left for some time, this can be reported to local government (for domestic or public locations) or WorkSafe (for workplaces). As the fibres are usually still well bonded in a non-friable cement matrix (as they were before the sheets were removed), health risks of such material are very low unless significantly disturbed or broken up. 

I need to remove asbestos from my home. Should I do it myself or employ a licenced asbestos removalist?

WorkSafe recommends you employ a licenced asbestos removalist, as these contractors have the skills, knowledge and equipment to do the work safely. However, if you decide to do the work yourself, do not put yourself or your family at risk, or risk contaminating your house or land.  Get the right information and equipment before you start. Information sources include:

Asbestos removal is occurring nearby and I am unsure if it is being done safely. What can I look out for?

Workers using personal protective equipment such as disposable coveralls and face masks (particulate respirators)

  • Work area restricted and signs used
  • Wet work methods or sealing (tinted) of ACM prior to removal
  • Minimal breakage of material 
  • Removed product wrapped in plastic or placed in lined bin/container 

Why do asbestos removal workers wear extensive personal protective equipment, while others near the workplace don’t need to?

Asbestos risks are influenced by how often a person may be exposed to airborne fibres. As such, asbestos removal workers are required to take extra care to avoid inhaling fibres, as they work with asbestos daily. One way they do this is by using personal protective equipment. Fibre release is also controlled during asbestos removal by the use of safe work methods and by the bonding effect of cement or other binders, for most asbestos containing materials.

People outside the asbestos work area should not have significant exposure if standard safe work practices are being used. Air monitoring at such boundaries commonly finds fibre levels below the detection limit.

We have a fire door at our workplace that we believe may contain asbestos. What work health and safety requirements are there in relation to removing it?

Due to the likelihood that the fire door potentially contains friable asbestos, a licenced asbestos removalist must be in control of the job.  If the door has been damaged in any way or has hinges or door handles missing, the removal must be conducted by a Class A licence holder.

If you have any concerns about the condition of the door or door furniture, use a Class A licence holder.

What type of licence is required for cleaning asbestos contaminated dust or debris?  

A Class A licence holder should be used unless the dust/debris contamination is considered to be minor contamination or is associated with removal of non-friable asbestos containing material.

See guidance from Safe Work Australia.

This issue frequently arises in the context of ceiling spaces. It is important that a competent person with the relevant experience and knowledge conducts a risk assessment and that all risks associated with ceiling spaces are reduced as far as practicable.

Asbestos removal works are occurring nearby and I have not been informed that this is occurring. Is there a requirement for neighbours to be informed?

Under the Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022, there is a requirement for employers to consult with workers health and safety representatives on site regarding health and safety issues.  If the workplace is a residential premises, the licensed asbestos removalist must inform the occupier, the owner and anyone occupying premises in the immediate vicinity of the workplace before the work is carried out. For workplaces, the person with management or control of the workplace must be informed that licensed asbestos removal work is to be carried out and when the work is to commence.

Do clearances have to be conducted for Class A and Class B removal work?

Yes. Following asbestos removal, the adequacy of the work will need to be assessed and a clearance conducted. The clearance must be conducted by an independent competent person (ICP) who has knowledge, training and experience in asbestos removal as well as holding a certification for asbestos assessor work or a relevant tertiary qualification. For Class A removal work, the ICP must be a licenced asbestos assessor (LAA). Independent means the IPC or LAA must not be involved in the removal of asbestos for that specific job or be involved with the asbestos licence holder removing the asbestos for that specific job.

Do I have to notify the Regulator (WorkSafe) before conducting either Class A or Class B Asbestos Removal Work?

Yes. All licenced asbestos removal work must be reported to WorkSafe 5 days prior to the asbestos removal work commencing using the online form.

Is Notification of emergency asbestos removal required?

If asbestos must be removed immediately due to an emergency the Regulator (WorkSafe) must be contacted immediately by telephone (during business hours or the next business day if outside of business hours) and the online notification form submitted within 24 hours.

Management of asbestos in workplaces

I have asbestos cement building materials at my workplace. Is there anything I need to do about that?

The Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022 requires that the person conducting a business or undertaking identifies the presence and location of asbestos at the workplace, and assesses the health risks. 

This information will be recorded on the asbestos register.  If the asbestos containing material (ACM) presents a health risk, the employer or person in control of the workplace has a duty of care under WHS legislation to implement controls.

The asbestos register is used to communicate the hazard before work is done on the asbestos containing material. A safe system of work must be used for tasks that may disturb the asbestos containing material (eg cleaning, painting or other maintenance). 

Information must also be provided to workers in relation to asbestos containing materials at the workplace. The level of information needs to suit the person’s role; for example workers who do not have a direct involvement with the asbestos containing materials may only require awareness that the workplace contains asbestos and that there is an asbestos register; however workers who maintain such materials or organise contractors to work on them need an understanding of asbestos hazards and the asbestos management system. Labels and signs must be used where practicable, as part of a safe system of work.

The PCBU also has a duty to develop an asbestos management plan which includes the identification of the asbestos containing material (ACM), decisions and reasons about the management of asbestos at the workplace, procedures for detailing incidents or emergencies in relation to ACM. The asbestos management plan must be readily accessible to workers and health and safety representatives.

How often must a review be undertaken of asbestos containing materials at a workplace?

A review of the asbestos management plan must occur when there is a review of the asbestos register or a control measure, when asbestos is removed or remediated, if the asbestos management plan is no longer adequate, if a Health and Safety Representative requests a review or at least every 5 years.

Should asbestos building materials be labelled?

Warning signs and labels supplement the information on an asbestos register and must be used where reasonably practicable, as part of a safe system of work.  A competent person can advise on the placement of labels and signs.  

There are cracked or broken asbestos cement sheets at my home or workplace, how should this be managed? 

Asbestos cement fence with broken section
Asbestos cement fence with broken section.

Cracked asbestos cement sheets are usually still in non-friable (hard) condition and fibres are bonded in the cement matrix, so the health risks are generally low. Options to manage such sheets include replacing the sheet with non-asbestos material, or if that is not practical, the cracked or broken edges can be painted or sealed to further bond the fibres. 

I am concerned that asbestos cement building materials at my workplace (or a nearby building) are getting very weathered and may release fibres. 

Weathered capping on an asbestos cement fence
Weathered capping on an asbestos cement fence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over time, asbestos cement structures deteriorate as the cement slowly breaks down and asbestos fibres are washed and blown away. Even if an asbestos cement material is in poor condition, it is not likely to pose an increased risk to your health. Released fibres rapidly disperse into the air and their concentration reduces within a short distance from the structure. 

Asbestos cement roofs in Western Australia are now aged and removal should be considered where practicable. They can pose an increased risk to health when they are disturbed or being worked on or when the roof gutters are being cleaned. 

Information on the management of asbestos containing materials at your workplace should be part of the asbestos management plan. This should detail the short to long term management controls with a view to removal of the asbestos containing material where reasonable practicable.

Further information on damaged or weathered asbestos cement is available from the Queensland Department of Health and Safe Work Australia.

I sometimes need to drill or work with asbestos materials as part of my trade (eg electrical or plumbing work, handyman work). How can this be done safely? 

There are detailed work instructions for many tasks on the UK HSE website. Regulations are different in the UK, however the safe work practices are relevant to Australia.

In general the use of water or gels (such as shaving cream) can help to reduce dust (note that wet methods cannot be used if there is an electrical hazard). Non-powered tools should be used as they make larger (less hazardous) dust particles than power tools. High speed abrasive power or pneumatic tools must not be used. Personal protective equipment and cleanup equipment to decontaminate is required.

Employees should discuss asbestos work with their employer if the safe work procedure is unclear. 

We have asbestos containing material at our workplace that may be friable (eg pipe lagging, low density board, severely fire damaged asbestos cement sheet, vinyl flooring with a soft asbestos backing). How should this be managed?

A competent person (such as an occupational hygienist with asbestos experience) can provide advice on such material and confirm whether or not it is friable. Options for managing such material include:

  • Removal – for high risk material that is very soft, likely to be disturbed, or material no longer in functional condition. Only a Class A licence holder can remove friable asbestos.
  • Management in place – for material such as the backing of a vinyl floor in intact condition, or other inaccessible ACM, management through an asbestos management plan is feasible. However, management is likely to be more complex than for non-friable asbestos containing materials.
  • Cleanup – sometimes minor damage to material has resulted in some pieces becoming detached, and cleanup and repair is an option. However if the risk of future disturbance is high, removal is the preferred option. 
Flakes spalled from asbestos cement sheeting involved in a severe fire
Flakes spalled from asbestos cement sheeting involved in a severe fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low density fibreboard ceiling panels (amosite and chrysotile)
Low density fibreboard ceiling panels (amosite and chrysotile).

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have asbestos cement building materials at our workplace. Should we do surface testing to test for fibres in the dust?

Asbestos fibres in settled dust are indicators of workplace cleanliness rather than health risk. Settled fibres are often larger than the tiny respirable fibres associated with health risk.  There are no standards available to compare settled dust fibre levels against health risk.

Fibres are commonly detected in settled dust in asbestos cement buildings, especially in seldom disturbed areas such as the top of roof beams. Such testing should only be undertaken with a clear understanding as to what action will be taken if fibres are detected.

My asbestos roof has deteriorated and I have asbestos containing dust in my ceiling space and/or premises. What should I do?

Over time, asbestos cement roofs weather or degrade due to thermal expansion/contraction, and as a result typically release some asbestos fibres. Asbestos roofs are now very old and removal should be considered as a long term management strategy.  In the interim, other controls may be required if the roof space is used by workers, such as conducting an environmental clean. It should be noted that if the asbestos roof is still present, an environmental clean does not prevent further fibres being deposited in the roof space over time. If the roof space is not accessed, an environmental clean is not generally required.

In terms of asbestos containing dust in a work space, every case will be unique and the extent of asbestos dust contamination should be investigated by a competent person (a person with appropriate training, knowledge and experience in this matter such as an occupational hygienist) who can assist with assessing the risks and determining appropriate control strategies. The risk relates to the extent of contamination, nature of tasks done in the space, likelihood and extent of dust disturbance, and the frequency and duration of exposure.  Settled dust samples can assist in determining how much asbestos is present and in determining the short term and longer term controls. However, dust samples of this nature by themselves do not represent the risk to health or the level of exposure.

For further information and guidance on whether a licenced asbestos removalist is required, see ‘Minor contamination’ of asbestos-containing dust or debris Fact Sheet - Safe Work Australia

General

My worker has been exposed to asbestos. Do I have to notify WorkSafe?

Under Section 38 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2020, there is a requirement for the regulator to be notified by the person conducting a business or undertaking when a worker has been exposed to asbestos. Exposure in this instance refers to elevated levels of asbestos inhaled, for example during unsafe work practices during which asbestos dust was generated or if friable asbestos was disturbed and adequate PPE was not used.

Notifications of exposure can be made on line.

I have found fragments of asbestos cement material, what should I do?

For small quantities of asbestos cement fragments, no licence is required to dispose of the material.

The fragments should be collected, placed in a labelled heavy duty plastic bag or wrapping and taken to a suitable landfill or Local Government asbestos collection point. This should not be delayed especially if there is the possibility of the material being disturbed or damaged such as by traffic or lawn mowers. Normally disposable or washable rubber gloves and good personal hygiene are sufficient for collecting the material. However, if there has been extensive fragmentation or abrasion, then a well-fitted P2 respirator should be worn and the material wetted with water before collection, or services of a licensed asbestos removalist sought.

For larger quantities of fragments found in soil, refer to this guide from the Department of Health, or contact the Department of Health to discuss cleanup and possible reporting requirements.

Further information is available from the Department of Health.

Asbestos cement material chip for disposal
Asbestos cement material chip for disposal, by WorkSafe
Fragment in temporary bag - needs to be placed in a heavy duty bag/wrap for disposal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During excavation work at our workplace, materials that may be asbestos (such as pipes or sheets) have been found. What should we do?

If the material is not in use, you can either presume the material is asbestos-containing and dispose of it as for asbestos (using a licensed removalist if there is more than 10 m2 material), or have a sample tested to see whether or not asbestos is present.

If the material is still in use (eg pipes), avoid further damage. 

Can I re-use asbestos material at my workplace, for example take down an asbestos fence or a wall temporarily, and then replace it? 

No, once the asbestos material has been removed from its original location it must be disposed of in the proper manner.

Can I use high pressure water to clean my asbestos roof/fence?

No. Under the  Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022, high pressure cleaning of any material that contains asbestos is prohibited. This technique spreads fine asbestos fibres in the vicinity and the cost of cleaning up after such an incident can be very high.

WorkSafe Queensland has produced a video to show the dangers of high pressure cleaning of asbestos roofs  - Video

Further information

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