Asbestos at work

Asbestos was once used in Australia in more than 3000 different products, including fibro, flue pipes, drains, roofs, gutters, brakes, clutches and gaskets.

Breathing 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.

Those who get health problems from inhaling asbestos have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. Symptoms don’t usually appear until 20 to 30 years after initial exposure.

If asbestos fibres are in a stable material, such as fibro, they pose little health risk. However, when the fibro is damaged or disturbed in some way, fibres can become loose and airborne, and pose a risk to someone’s health.

These videos highlight the dangers of working with asbestos.

Must do’s

There are specific laws about working with asbestos. Here we summarise those laws and give you some practical tips.

Working with asbestos

Don’t allow your workers to work with asbestos, except under prescribed circumstances or until they are properly trained.

Also, make sure the exposure standard for asbestos is not exceeded.

For more information, visit asbestosawareness.com.au or call 1800 Asbestos (1800 272 378).

Find asbestos in the workplace

Get a competent person, such as a licensed asbestos assessor, to inspect your workplace for asbestos. If unsure whether it is present, assume it is.

If necessary, have a sample checked by a NATA-accredited laboratory.

Once identified, make sure all asbestos is clearly labelled.

Keeping an asbestos register

If your workplace was built before 31 December 2003, you must keep a register that outlines when and where asbestos has been located, what type it is, and what condition it’s in.

Make the register available to anyone likely to be exposed to asbestos, keep it up-to-date, and pass it on to anyone who takes over management or control of the workplace.

Prepare an asbestos management plan

If asbestos has been identified at your workplace, you must prepare and maintain an asbestos management plan, regardless of whether the asbestos is naturally-occurring or from manufactured materials.

Your plan must include:

  • reference (or a link) to the asbestos register, and signage and labelling
  • safe work procedures and control measures
  • incident and emergency procedures
  • consultation arrangements, responsibilities and training details of workers doing asbestos work.

You must review the plan at least every five years or when:

  • requested by a health and safety representative (HSR)
  • asbestos is removed, disturbed, sealed or enclosed.

The plan must be available to anyone involved in work at the workplace.

Monitor workers’ health

You must provide and pay for health monitoring for all those working with, or exposed to, asbestos

Train workers

Your workers must be trained in identifying and handling asbestos safely, and understanding suitable control measures.

What not to do

When you’re working on or near asbestos, you must not use high-pressure water sprays or compressed air – and you must control the use of power tools, brooms or anything else that might release asbestos into the air.

Demolition and refurbishment

If you plan to demolish or refurbish a workplace, review the asbestos register first, then give the person conducting the work a copy of the register. If the register is inadequate in light of the work to be done, you must revise it first.

If there is no register, get a competent person, such as a licensed asbestos assessor, to inspect the site for asbestos. If they are unsure, or parts of the site are inaccessible, assume asbestos exists.

Be it a workplace or residential property, you must identify all asbestos that is likely to be disturbed before demolition begins – and remove it.

If the building is unsound or at risk of collapse the asbestos does not have to be removed before demolition. However, before demolition begins you must notify us – and follow this up in writing.

Licensed asbestos removalists

Get a licence

You must be licensed to remove asbestos, except if removing 10 square metres or less of non-friable asbestos.

Find a licensed asbestos removalist.

Nominate a supervisor

If you have a class A licence, you must have an asbestos supervisor on site. If you have a class B licence, a supervisor must be readily available whenever the work is being carried out.

Train your workers

Before being engaged to carry out the licensed asbestos removal work, all those assisting you in removing asbestos must have completed a relevant VET course, be trained in the site’s removal control plan, and be told about the effects of exposure and the need for health monitoring.

Keep all your training records for five years and make them readily available.

Get an asbestos register and prepare an asbestos removal control plan

Get a copy of the site’s asbestos register before you begin work.

Prepare an asbestos removal control plan

Your removal control plan must outline how the work will be carried out, what tools and equipment will be used, and the location, type and condition of the asbestos.

Keep a copy till the work is complete – or for at least two years if there is a notifiable incident – and give a copy to the person who commissioned you. Also, make it readily available to your workers.

Notify us and inform others

You must notify us at least five days before you begin work. Lodge the notification electronically using our online notification system, or complete this notification form.

You can begin work immediately only if there is a sudden and unexpected event, such as a failure of equipment, that may cause someone to be exposed to asbestos fibres. Or if there is an unexpected breakdown in an essential service that requires immediate rectification to enable the service to continue.

If you must remove the asbestos immediately, call us on 13 10 50 before you begin work – and notify us in writing within 24 hours.

Inform others

When removing asbestos from a workplace – and before work begins – tell the person who commissioned the work and the owner/manager of the workplace when you intend to begin work, so that they can inform their workers and neighbouring businesses and residents.

When removing asbestos from residential premises, tell the owners, tenants and anyone living nearby when you intend to begin work.

Install signs and barriers

Make sure you put signs and barricades around the work area.

Decontaminate and get a clearance certificate

You must ensure there are facilities to decontaminate your work area, and any equipment or people involved in the work (or who accessed the area).

All contaminated material and equipment must be sealed, labelled properly, and disposed of at an authorised waste facility.

If you can’t dispose of contaminated clothing, keep it in a sealed container till it’s re-used for asbestos removal purposes. Or, better still, send it to a laundry that is equipped to clean asbestos-contaminated clothing.

Get a clearance certificate

If you hold an asbestos removal licence and have finished removing asbestos from residential premises, you must arrange for an independent licensed asbestos assessor (or independent competent person) to conduct a visual inspection and, if necessary, air monitoring.

Once satisfied that the area is free of visible asbestos contamination and air monitoring shows asbestos below 0.01 fibres/ml (if required), the assessor (or competent person) will issue you a clearance certificate.

Air monitoring must use the membrane filter method and be carried out before, during and, if necessary, after your removal work.

If you hold a Class A licence and are removing asbestos from a workplace, the person who commissions you must arrange for the assessor (or competent person).

If monitoring in the workplace shows asbestos between 0.01 and 0.02 fibres/ml, you must:

  • investigate the cause
  • implement controls to prevent exposure
  • prevent further release of fibres.

If monitoring shows asbestos to be over 0.02 fibres/ml, you must:

  • stop work
  • notify us
  • investigate the cause
  • implement controls to prevent exposure
  • prevent further release of fibres.

Conduct air monitoring

If you commission asbestos removal work that requires a Class A licence, you must get the licensed asbestos assessor to undertake air monitoring of the asbestos removal area.

If the workplace is a residential premises, the licensed asbestos removalist is responsible for getting an assessor to do the air monitoring.

You must give the results of the air monitoring to your workers, health and safety representatives and others at the workplace.

Removing friable asbestos

A licensed asbestos removalist removing friable asbestos must make sure:

  • the work area is enclosed
  • the enclosure is tested – eg smoke testing –  by a licensed asbestos assessor
  • the wet method and negative air pressure are used
  • air monitoring takes place
  • glove bags used to enclose the asbestos removal area are dismantled and disposed of safely (negative air pressure and air monitoring are not required before work begins when glove bags are used)
  • enclosures are dismantled when safe to do so – ie when asbestos monitoring levels are  below 0.01 fibres/ml and a visual clearance is undertaken within the enclosure.

If you commissioned the removal of the friable asbestos, you must obtain a clearance certificate from a licensed asbestos assessor after the enclosure for the removal area has been dismantled.

MORE INFORMATION

For the specific laws about working with asbestos, see chapter 8 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017.

There are also general work health and safety laws that will apply to you in any situation, including when working with asbestos.

For general information about asbestos, see our list of resources and networks.