Encountering Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral group that can be found in rock formations. Being strong, highly fire resistant and offering good insulation properties made it a building material of choice. Asbestos was mined right here in Australia; so was easily available and commonly used in many building materials prior to 1990. Unfortunately, asbestos is now widely known to be a primary cause of lung disease and cancer when inhaled. Odourless, tasteless and invisible to the human eye, soft loose ‘friable’ asbestos materials are considered incredibly dangerous.

While asbestos may once have been categorized by colour or quality; there is only one major distinction currently used for asbestos.

Asbestos is either:

  • ‘Non-friable’, which is solid and not considered dangerous or
  • ‘Friable’, soft, loose, crumbly, and apt to become dangerously inhalable asbestos dust.

There is no way of determining the presence of asbestos simply by looking at it. Laboratory testing uses specialised microscopic examination.

If you have health concerns regarding asbestos or you wish to register a complaint regarding asbestos removals, please see our health and safety section for details:  Health and Safety: Asbestos.

Encountering Asbestos during Renovation or Demolition

Dangerous, loose, (friable) asbestos was used in some kinds of:

  • Spray-on insulation or sound-proofing
  • Loose-fill roof insulation
  • Brick and plaster sealants
  • Fillers
  • Some adhesives

In addition, corrugated ‘fibro’ cement, produced containing non-friable asbestos, was regularly used to cover roofs or underneath tiles. ‘Fibro’ can also, - and frequently does - become ‘friable’, crumbly and loose after years of weathering, hail, wind, water and sun damage.

It is highly recommended that all asbestos is dealt with by a Qualified Asbestos Removalist, which can be located through the following organisations:

While it is possible for home owners to remove small amounts of non-friable asbestos material; the soft, loose, friable asbestos materials are incredibly dangerous if encountered.

Absolutely do not attempt to use high pressure hoses, compressed air or power tools on anything where you even suspect asbestos is present. High pressure from water hoses and compressed air can crumble the asbestos further, contaminating your home’s air and water. The same applies to power tools.

While you can remove some asbestos yourself, (following safety regulations very carefully); all forms of friable asbestos must be removed by a fully qualified asbestos removalist. If you think there is friable asbestos present on your property get a certified asbestos removalist to remove the asbestos as soon as safely and affordably as possible.

It’s worth remembering that if the asbestos removal is part of a larger project, that it is unusual for your removalist to be able to get to work right away.

Mandatory Waiting Period

The removalist will have to notify the Victorian Work-Cover Authority, (VWA), a specified number of days before they can commence the work, so you’ll have to wait a minimum of:

  • 5 days for:
    • All friable asbestos removal jobs and
    • Big non-friable asbestos removal jobs that remove more than 10 square metres (10m2) of non-friable asbestos
  • 24 hours for:
    • Non-friable asbestos removal jobs that are less than 10 square metres (10m2) in total

'Unexpected Situation' Exemption

Have you or anyone else working or living the house found out that you have been breathing asbestos particles? Or has an ‘essential’ service, like water, sewage or internet, been blocked by material you think is asbestos and cannot be restarted without handling or removing it?

These situations are considered an ‘unexpected situation’ as per regulation 4.3.98 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007. In an ‘unexpected situation’, your qualified asbestos removalist can begin removing asbestos immediately.

The following is essential under the unexpected situation circumstances:

  • A building permit is still required to have the asbestos replaced, at the time of asbestos removal this permit is not required
  • Your removalist must notify VWA within 24 hours of starting the job

If you have a complaint regarding the removal of asbestos by a licensed removalist or asbestos in the workplace you should contact WorkSafe on 1800 136 089 or visit the WorkSafe website:  http://www.vwa.vic.gov.au/

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Last updated: 08 March 2016