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Asbestos

 

Overview

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.

Minor routine maintenance and other minor work

From 1 January 2015 the removal of asbestos and asbestos containing material (ACM) 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.

Minor routine maintenance work

Minor maintenance work includes routine work that is small scale, often short in duration and may be unscheduled. This work may require the partial dismantling of a structure or plant and may include the removal of asbestos or asbestos containing material (ACM) such as gaskets or brake components for example a piece of plant to remove an asbestos containing gasket, a passenger lift or press machine to remove an asbestos containing brake component, or a piece of plant for the purpose of cleaning or repair.

Additional examples of minor routine maintenance work would include the following tasks, and like activities, relating to non-friable asbestos or ACM:

  • Sealing, painting and coating for the purpose of maintaining the condition of the non-friable asbestos or non-friable ACM.
  • Cleaning leaf litter from gutters of asbestos cement roofs.
  • Removing and disposing of small, isolated pieces of ACM found at a premises.

The following activities, and any other like activities, would not be considered minor routine maintenance work:

  • Disturbing loose fill asbestos insulation (for example in 'Mr Fluffy' homes).
  • Cleaning a medium to large premises which has surfaces covered in asbestos contaminated dust (for example where clean-up will take at least 4 hours) - Class A licensed removalist required.
  • Cleaning any ACM with high pressure air or water devices.
  • Unless otherwise prescribed in legislation, undertaking any maintenance work on friable asbestos or ACM.

Minor work

Minor work includes small tasks that are of short duration such as cutting a small hole or hand drilling up to a few holes in an asbestos cement sheet. It is not routine or regular such as planned maintenance. It is incidental work that can be done quickly and safely within minimal control measures required to ensure safety. Examples include cutting a small hole into an asbestos containing eave to install a cable, removal of an asbestos containing vinyl tile to install a plumbing fixture, or hand drilling a few holes into an asbestos cement sheet to attach a fitting.

The disturbance of asbestos or asbestos containing material (ACM) with regards to minor work will generally be the result of small incidental tasks wherein the sole focus of the activity is the installation, reconfiguration or repair of a service unrelated to asbestos removal. This work relates to non-friable asbestos or ACM only.

Health monitoring

A person conducting a business or undertaking must provide health monitoring to workers who perform certain types of work in accordance with Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.

This information is to assist employers and workers understand their health monitoring obligations, as well as what should be considered before starting health monitoring. Additional information on asbestos- related health monitoring can be found in:

Asbestos in the environment

Low levels of asbestos fibres are present in the environment, for example from the weathering of asbestos-cement sheets in roofing and wall cladding and naturally occurring mineral fibres. Ambient or background air typically contains 0.0005 fibre/ml outdoors and 0.0002 fibres/ml indoors.

Despite this, the general population does not contract asbestos-related disease in significant numbers. The background rate of mesothelioma is less than one case per million people per year.

What is health monitoring?

Health monitoring is used to identify changes in a person's health because of exposure to certain substances. Health monitoring can involve:

  • consideration of the worker's demographic, medical and occupational history
  • consideration of records of the worker's personal exposure
  • a physical examination of the worker with emphasis on the respiratory system.

When is health monitoring required?

A person conducting a business or undertaking must provide and pay for health monitoring for workers who are at risk of exposure to asbestos when carrying out licensed asbestos removal work, or asbestos-related work.

Licensed asbestos removal work

If a worker is carrying out licensed asbestos removal work, health monitoring must be conducted prior to the worker commencing the work and thereafter at regular intervals not exceeding once every two years.

Asbestos-related work

Health monitoring may also be required for various types of work other than licensed asbestos removal where there is a risk of asbestos exposure. These include regular minor or routine maintenance work and minor work on asbestos containing material which may be undertaken by electricians or building maintenance staff in older buildings.

The question of whether or not health monitoring is required for these workers depends on whether there is an assessed risk of exposure to asbestos when carrying out asbestos-related work. This should be determined on the basis of:

  • the potential for exposure
  • the frequency of potential exposure
  • the duration of the work being undertaken.

Person conducting a business or undertaking must periodically review their business activities to determine whether regular asbestos-related work is being undertaken by its workers and determine whether it should be providing health monitoring.

If a worker is concerned that their employer has incorrectly determined that health monitoring is not required, they may contact Access Canberra to seek clarification or advice.

Medical management and incidental exposure

There is no legal requirement for a person conducting a business or undertaking to provide health monitoring for workers in instances of 'incidental exposure'.

People who may have been exposed to asbestos are naturally concerned about the possible health effects. There is at present no post-exposure prevention for the effects of inhaled asbestos fibres. There are also no generally available techniques for determining individual lung burdens of asbestos fibres.

Asbestos-related damage to the lungs generally takes years to develop and become visible on chest X-rays. Further, X-ray examinations cannot indicate whether or not asbestos fibres have been inhaled. Given this, health monitoring would not ordinarily include a chest X-ray unless clinically indicated or under recommendation by a registered medical practitioner.

Workers or individuals who are concerned that they may have suffered from incidental exposure to asbestos, may choose to seek advice from their general practitioner (at their own cost). Workers and concerned individuals can also register their suspected exposure through the National Asbestos Exposure Register.

Mr Fluffy (loose fill asbestos insulation)

'Mr Fluffy' is the commonly used name for the asbestos fluff insulation installed by D. Jansen & Co. Pty Ltd and its successor firms which installed loose fill asbestos insulation between 1968 and 1978-79 in Canberra and, it is believed, the surrounding region. Contemporary advertisements promised 'sure comfort and fuel savings' to homeowners who paid less than $100 to insulate an average 11 square house with what was claimed to be 'CSIRO Tested and Approved' as 'the perfect thermal insulating material'. That material comprised raw asbestos, crushed and blown into roof spaces and allowed to settle across the battens and ceilings, and behind the cornices, of more than 1000 Canberra homes.

The ACT Government Asbestos Response Taskforce has now found that loose asbestos fibres remain in the roof spaces, wall cavities, and subfloors of affected homes. In recent times they have also been found, sometimes in visible quantities, in cupboards, heating and cooling ducts and vents, living rooms and bedrooms.

Under the ACT Government Asbestos Response Taskforce loose fill insulation eradication scheme, properties containing 'Mr Fluffy' are subject to a voluntary buy back scheme, where the properties have the insulation removed and are demolished.

Homes affected by loose fill asbestos insulation are required by law to have a warning sticker (also known as a safety tag) displayed at the electricity meter box and switch board.

Asbestos contamination report

Any residents remaining in loose fill asbestos insulation affected properties after 1 July 2016 are required to have a 'Loose fill contamination report' and subsequent asbestos management plan completed for the property and lodged with WorkSafe ACT (Access Canberra) under regulations 341 to 344 of the Dangerous Substances (General) Regulation 2004.

Information about working safely in a 'Mr Fluffy' property can be found on the Q and A - Safety and regulation page of the Asbestos Response Taskforce website.

Safety tags

Your obligations as a home owner

The obligations below are outlined in part 3.5 of the Dangerous Substances (General) Regulation 2004:

  1. The homeowner must ensure the warning sticker is displayed at the electricity meter box and switchboard for the home.
  2. As soon as the warning sticker is attached it must not be removed or defaced.
  3. If the warning sticker is removed or defaced, the homeowner or resident must replace it.

This provides a way for tradespeople to easily identify when they are working on a house affected by loose fill asbestos.

It is important to note that having the sticker in place does not replace a homeowner's responsibility to inform tradespeople, tenants or potential buyers of the presence of loose fill asbestos and provide a copy of the Asbestos Contamination Report, also known as an Asbestos Management Plan. Refer to the Asbestos Management Plans page on the Asbestos Response Taskforce for more information.

Homeowners refusing to attach the warning sticker may be charged with a criminal offence and fined up to $4,500. Access Canberra inspectors also have other enforcement and compliance tools (including the legislative powers to require entry to your home) that they can use to ensure compliance. Failure to cooperate with these measures could result in more serious charges and penalties.

Your obligations as a tenant

Tenants must not remove the warning stickers.

If the sticker is removed or defaced after it is attached the tenant must ensure it is replaced.

If a tenant knows their rented accommodation is affected by loose fill asbestos insulation and there is no sticker in place they should contact their landlord or Access Canberra.

What do the warning stickers look like?

The stickers measure 7.5cm x 10cm. They are made of a reflective, weather-resistant vinyl material.

Loose asbestos insulation in property 'Mr Fluffy' House Danger safety tag.

Replacement stickers

Replacement stickers are provided free of charge by Access Canberra, most licensed asbestos assessors and most licensed asbestos removalists.

In the first instance, please contact Access Canberra to request a replacement.

Affixing the warning sticker

The warning stickers must be attached at a visible location at the electricity meter box and switchboard. In some houses they are located together (usually outside), in other houses they may be separate (usually the meter box is outside and the switchboard inside).

Common locations for electricity meter boxes include on the front or side of house, veranda wall or carport wall.

Example of where to affix a safety sticker on or in an electricity box.

If the switchboard is at a separate location to the meter box you must attach a separate warning sticker to the switchboard. Common locations for switchboards include inside meter boxes, in laundries or internal hallways.

Example of where to afiix a safety sticker on a fuse box.

To affix the tag:

  1. Wipe the surface you are going to stick it on with a dry cloth so it is clear of dust or debris.
  2. Remove the sticker from the backing.
  3. Place the sticker in the required location and rub over the surface of sticker to ensure it is affixed securely to the surface.

If the meter box is locked with an ActewAGL lock or if you consider your health or safety is at risk (for example if a licensed asbestos assessor has identified loose fill asbestos fibres inside the meter box) the warning sticker should be placed on the outside cover of the box so it is visible and accessible.

Please contact Access Canberra if you have any questions, concerns or difficulties placing the sticker in the appropriate location.

Note: ActewAGL should be notified of any potential hazard, such as the presence of loose fill asbestos fibres inside the meter box.

Related resources

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Contact options

Online: Report a workplace concern or issue

Phone: 13 22 81

Post: PO Box 158, Canberra City ACT 2601


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Updated 06/04/2018 04.08 PM

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