Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre that was widely used in the building industry. A residential building constructed or refurbished between 1950 and 1985 or a commercial building built before 2004 is likely to contain asbestos containing material.

Asbestos may be found on construction sites in products such as:

  • cement sheeting
  • corrugated sheeting
  • flat sheeting panels
  • shingles or tiles (external or ceiling)
  • pipes, tubes or fittings
  • compressed asbestos sheeting such as millboard
  • floor coverings such as vinyl asbestos tiles
  • textured paints and coatings
  • compounds
  • mastics, sealants, putties and adhesives
  • electrical panel partitioning.

Asbestos poses a risk to health when the asbestos containing material is damaged, deteriorated or disturbed due to fire, heat or work processes. When disturbed tiny asbestos fibres are produced and released into the air. The fibres may be inhaled even without a person's knowledge or awareness and may cause lung cancer, mesothelioma (cancer of the chest lining) or asbestosis (a non-cancerous scarring of the lungs).

A licensed asbestos assessor can advise of the condition of any asbestos or asbestos containing material at a work site. They can also advise of the most appropriate maintenance or removal options. Information about applying for a licence, and the requirements for interstate licensees to carry out work in the ACT, is available on the Asbestos Licensing page.

The removal of asbestos and asbestos containing material from a premises (both workplaces and non-workplaces) is not permitted unless it is undertaken by an appropriately licensed asbestos removalist - an exception is if the removal is incidental to minor routine maintenance work, or other minor work.

All construction workers must undertake training in the VET 10314NAT course in Asbestos Awareness prior to conducting any work in the industry. This course provides learners with:

  • the necessary knowledge and skills to determine when and where asbestos and asbestos containing material may be present;
  • knowledge of the hazards and risks associated with asbestos exposure and inhalation;
  • precautions that need to be taken if asbestos or asbestos containing material is present;
  • reporting procedures; and,
  • an understanding of each individual's general duty of care.

Prohibition under the Dangerous Substances Act

Asbestos is a prohibited dangerous substance under the Dangerous Substances Act 2004 which sets out obligations for persons in control of premises  (including residential premises) where asbestos may be present.

The Dangerous Substances (General) Regulation 2004 sets out required steps to comply with these obligations. For example, a warning sign must be displayed at residential premises where loose-fill asbestos insulation is present.

Certain activities which involve the storage and handling of asbestos, such as the removal of asbestos from residential premises, are authorised under Chapter 8 (Asbestos) of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 subject to the requirements set out in that chapter, including the requirement to hold an asbestos assessor licence or asbestos removalist licence.

Further information can be found on the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency website and the Asbestos Response Taskforce website.

If you have concerns about the possible presence of asbestos in your home or the way in which an asbestos assessor or asbestos removalist is carrying out work in the ACT, please contact WorkSafe ACT.

Health, safety and asbestos

Health and safety issues associated with the use and/or handling of asbestos is regulated in the ACT primarily through two pieces of legislation - the Dangerous Substances Act 2004 and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and their associated regulations.

The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 sets out a framework for the management of asbestos materials in workplaces including:

  • training of workers at risk of encountering asbestos;
  • notification to WorkSafe ACT of asbestos removals;
  • health monitoring for workers;
  • naturally occurring asbestos;
  • stricter requirements for the removal of asbestos; and,
  • national licensing and competency standards for licensed asbestos removalists and assessors.

The ACT has some specific requirements in relation to the management of asbestos to those in other states or territories including:

  • requiring all asbestos removal work to be carried out by a licensed asbestos removalist (removing the exception in the national model regulations for non-friable asbestos removal not exceeding 10 square meters);
  • creating an exception to the prohibition on work involving asbestos when the work is only 'minor or routine maintenance work, or other minor work';
  • replacing references to 'competent person' with 'licensed asbestos assessor' to clarify that all asbestos assessment, clearance inspections and air monitoring must be provided by a licensed asbestos assessor; and
  • requiring that a person with management or control of a workplace must assume asbestos is present if an approved warning sign is present (this will be the case if the premises is known to have contained loose fill asbestos).

The government has also made the decision to regulate the removal of asbestos in non-workplaces through new additions to the Dangerous Substances (General) Regulation 2004. A person must not remove asbestos or asbestos containing material from any premises (including residential premises) unless the person is an appropriately licensed asbestos removalist.

The only exception to this is work which is incidental to minor or routine maintenance work or other minor work at the premises.

The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 uses the following definitions for asbestos:

  • Airborne asbestos - Any fibres of asbestos small enough to be made airborne.
  • Asbestos containing material (ACM) - Any material or thing that contains asbestos as part of its design.
  • Asbestos contaminated dust or debris (ACD) - Dust or debris that has settled within a workplace and is (or assumed to be) contaminated with asbestos.
  • Friable asbestos - Any asbestos material in a powder form or can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry for example pipe lagging, limpet and fire door cores.
  • In situ asbestos - Asbestos or ACM fixed or installed in a structure, equipment or plant but does not include naturally occurring asbestos.
  • Naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) - The natural geological occurrence of asbestos minerals found in association with geological deposits including rock, sediment or soil.
  • Non-friable asbestos - Material containing asbestos that is not friable asbestos, including material containing asbestos fibres reinforced with a bonding compound such as asbestos cement (fibro), brakes and vinyl floor tiles.
  • Respirable asbestos - an asbestos fibre that:
    • is less than 3 microns (µm) wide;
    • is more than 5 microns (µm) long; and
    • has a length to width ratio of more than 3:1.

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