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:
The ACT has some specific requirements in relation to the management of asbestos to those in other states or territories including:
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:
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 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:
The following activities, and any other like activities, would not be considered minor routine maintenance 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.
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:
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.
Health monitoring is used to identify changes in a person's health because of exposure to certain substances. Health monitoring can involve:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The obligations below are outlined in part 3.5 of the Dangerous Substances (General) Regulation 2004:
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.
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.
The stickers measure 7.5cm x 10cm. They are made of a reflective, weather-resistant vinyl material.
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.
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.
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.
To affix the tag:
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.