Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found in the surface of the earth. It is a naturally occurring mineral rock made up of strong fibres that have fire, heat and chemical resistant properties. It contains strong fibres that have durability, fire resistance and insulating properties.

Asbestos was mined in Australia for over 100 years and Australia was the world’s highest user per capita of asbestos in the 1950s.

Asbestos is a generic term for a number of fibrous silicate minerals. There are two major groups of asbestos. The serpentine group contains chrysotile, commonly referred to as white asbestos. The amphibole group contains amosite (brown asbestos) crocidolite (blue asbestos) as well as some other less common types, which are tremolite, actinolite, and anthophylite.

Visit workcover.nsw.gov.au  

PROHIBITIONS ON ASBESTOS USE, REUSE OR SALE

The use of all forms of asbestos is no longer permitted. The use of all types of amphibole group was banned in the mid-1980s, and the manufacture and use of products containing chrysotile was prohibited nationally from 31 December 2003.
The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 does not allow the use (including the reuse) or sale of any asbestos material.

WHAT WAS ASBESTOS USED FOR?

The asbestos fibres were used as a bonding and filling material in a large range of products. Best known for its heat retardant capacity, asbestos is used in such products as wall linings (internal and external), roof sheeting, vehicle brake pads, floor tiles, vinyl flooring and assorted gaskets. Lagging material containing asbestos was also commonly used over the years to insulate heating ducts and water pipes in homes, offices, industrial buildings and ships.

Asbestos was manufactured into many different items. Asbestos-containing materials were used extensively in Australian buildings and structure, plant and equipment in ships, trains and motor vehicles during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and some uses, including some friction materials and gaskets, were only discontinued on 31st December 2003. Materials containing asbestos were very common in the Australian residential building industry between the 1940s and late 1980s before their production stopped.

BONDED AND FRIABLE ASBESTOS.

There are two types of material used in housing construction that contain asbestos:

  1. Bonded (Tightly Bound) Asbestos
    Bonded materials containing asbestos are the most common in domestic houses. They are mainly made up of a bonding compound (such as cement), with up to 15% to 40% asbestos fibres. Bonded materials containing asbestos are solid, quite rigid and the asbestos fibres are tightly bound in the sheeting. They are commonly called ‘fibro’, ‘asbestos cement’ or ‘AC sheeting’. Some of this asbestos sheeting can be in the form of corrugated roofing material with shallow or deep corrugations.

    Broken bonded asbestos can expose asbestos fibres at the edges of the broken pieces and must be treated with extreme care.

  2. Loosely Bound (Friable) Asbestos
    Loosely bound materials containing asbestos are not commonly found in domestic houses. They were primarily used in commercial and industrial settings for fire proofing, sound proofing and insulation. However, they can be found in some old domestic heaters, stoves, hot water systems and associated pipe lagging and in backing of vinyl and linoleum floor coverings.
    These materials can be made of up to 100% asbestos. They are quite loose and can be turned to dust with very light pressure, such as crushing with your hand. Loosely bound materials containing asbestos are very dangerous as the asbestos fibres can get into the air very easily.

    Different standards and requirements for handling apply to bonded and friable asbestos material.

WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF ASBESTOS?

Asbestos fibres are 50 to 200 times thinner than a human hair, can float in the air for a long time, can be invisible to the naked eye and can be breathed into the lungs.

Asbestos in asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The risk of contracting these diseases increases with the number of fibres inhaled and the risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibres is also greater if you smoke. People who get health problems from inhaling asbestos fibres have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.

DO I HAVE MATERIALS CONTAINING ASBESTOS IN MY HOUSE?

It can be difficult to tell whether your home has materials containing asbestos just by looking at it.
As a general rule, if your house was built:

  • Before the mid 1980s, it is highly likely that it would have materials containing asbestos.
  • Between the mid 1980s and 1990, it is likely that it would have materials containing asbestos.
  • After 1990, it is highly unlikely it would have materials containing asbestos.

If you are not sure that a material contains asbestos play it safe and assume that it does. To definitely identify that an item contains asbestos it is necessary to obtain advice from an occupational hygienist, an environmental consultant or get the material tested by a NATA registered laboratory.

DEMOLITIONS AND RENOVATIONS WHERE ASBESTOS MATERIAL IS PRESENT.

Any development, including any renovations or demolitions, involving asbestos material removal must be undertaken by a person who carries on a business that is licensed under Clause 485 and 487 of the Work Health & Safety Regulation 2011. An exception to this requirement is where less than 10 square metres of bonded asbestos (i.e. in sheet form) is being removed.

Where asbestos is to be removed during renovation or demolition projects the extent of the existence of asbestos is to be detailed in any Development Application or Applications for Complying Development Certificates for that work.

The demolition of buildings work must comply with the Australian Standard AS2601-2001 The demolition of structures.

The following websites contain useful information on identifying and dealing with asbestos, including the dos and donts of handling asbestos materials in the home

Who can remove asbestos material (bonded asbestos under 10 square metres)?

Any person who is involved with the removal of not more than 10 square metres of bonded (non friable) material in the form of ‘fibro’, ‘asbestos sheeting”, asbestos roofing material, or “AC sheeting” must take special care in respect to their own safety precautions and the safety of others.

There are specific ways to remove this material and before commencing any of this type of work (even with small areas such as 10 square metres) you should seek expert advice as to the manner in which the work should be performed, the special personal protection equipment that should be utilised, the precautions to be taken to protect the safety of others, the method of storage, transport and disposal.

It is strongly advised that a home owner engage the services of a suitably licensed contractor to carry out the asbestos removal work, irrespective of the amount involved. If you decide to remove less than 10 square metres of asbestos materials yourself go to www.asbestosawareness.com.au to find out about safe removal of asbestos.

WHO CAN REMOVE ASBESTOS MATERIAL (BONDED ASBESTOS OVER 10 SQUARE METRES OR OTHER ASBESTOS MATERIAL)? (LICENSING REQUIREMENTS FOR ASBESTOS REMOVALS)

Work involving bonded (non friable) asbestos removal work (of an area of more than 10 square metres) or friable asbestos removal work must be undertaken by a person who carries on a business of such removal work in accordance with a licence under clause 485 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.

A signed contract with a licensed person should be obtained prior to the commencement of any work involving asbestos material.

Any contract with a licensed person must indicate whether any bonded asbestos material or friable asbestos material will be removed, and if so, must specify the landfill site (that may lawfully receive asbestos) to which the bonded asbestos material or friable asbestos material is to be delivered.

LICENCING REQUIREMENTS FOR REMOVING ASBESTOS

Since January 2008, a bonded asbestos licence has been required in NSW to remove more than 10 square metres of bonded asbestos material. A licensed bonded asbestos removalist can remove any amount of bonded asbestos material. Licensing for asbestos removalists is regulated and administered by WorkCover NSW. The two types of asbestos licences are designated as Class A and Class B licences.

  • Class A asbestos removal licence authorises the person to carry out work with friable and bonded asbestos.
  • Class B asbestos removal licence authorises the person to carry out work with bonded asbestos only.

Council’s Building Surveyors or the person appointed as the Principle Certifying Authority in respect to any particular building project have a role in ensuring that the conditions of Development Consent or a Complying Development Certificate are complied with.

Should a person not comply with the terms of the Consent then there is a range of actions that could be taken to enforce compliance and these include the issue of directions on the site, the service of Orders, the issue of a Penalty Infringement Notice (on-the-spot-fine), or the launching of prosecution proceedings in the appropriate court.

NSW WorkCover Officers also have a role in enforcing the provisions of the Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations.

The penalties for non-compliance with the laws relating to work involving asbestos material are severe.

WHERE CAN ASBESTOS MATERIAL BE DISPOSED OF?

The requirements for the transport of asbestos waste are that bonded asbestos material must be securely packaged at all times; friable asbestos material must be kept in a sealed container; asbestos-contaminated soils must be wetted down; and all asbestos waste must be transported in a covered, leak-proof vehicle.

The requirements for the disposal of asbestos waste are that asbestos waste in any form must be disposed of only at a landfill site (waste depot) that is lawfully licensed to receive that waste; the transporter of asbestos waste must notify the occupier or operator of the waste depot that the load contains asbestos waste; and that the transporter, when unloading and disposing of the asbestos waste, must do so in such a manner as to prevent the generation of dust or the stirring up of dust. The operator of the licensed waste depot has other responsibilities in respect of the covering of the waste. Refer to www.asbestosawareness.com.au for further information on the disposal of asbestos material.

IMPORTED LANDFILL – CONTAMINATION OF LAND

Before accepting fill on your land, check with council to find out if filling of land is permitted on your premises and what approvals are required. Council approval is often required to ensure that only uncontaminated fill is used on residential properties and safety control measures are put in place. Council will also check that fill is not placed in areas where it may cause harm to plants and wildlife or pollute watercourses.

Landowners and occupants can be ordered to remove unapproved fill and pay the costs of taking it to a lawful waste facility.

ASBESTOS MANAGEMENT POLICY & GUIDELINE

City of Parramatta Council has developed an Asbestos Management Policy and guideline that details Council commitment to safely managing the risks associated with asbestos materials in our local community.

The policy and guideline are based upon the Model Asbestos Policy for NSW Councils developed by the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities to promote a consistent Local Government approach to asbestos management across NSW.

The Asbestos Management Policy and Guideline outlines:

  • The role of Council and other organisations in managing asbestos;
  • Council’s approach to dealing with sites contaminated by asbestos and emergencies or incidents
  • Council’s Development Approval process for developments that may involve asbestos
  • How Council manages asbestos in the workplace
  • General advice for residents on renovating homes that may contain asbestos

The policy and guideline should be read in conjunction with relevant legislation, state government policies  and codes of practice relevant to the management of asbestos. The policy and guideline do not constitute legal advice.