Encountering Asbestos

 Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that used to be a building material of choice up to the mid-1980s because it was strong, highly fire-resistant and offered good insulation. But asbestos is now widely known to be a health risk if inhaled. Odourless, tasteless and invisible to the human eye, soft and loose ‘friable’ asbestos materials are considered incredibly dangerous.

Asbestos was once categorised by colour or quality, but there is only one major distinction used for asbestos now.

Asbestos is either:

  • ‘Non-friable’ - solid and not considered dangerous
  • ‘Friable’ - soft, loose, crumbly and can 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

Loose (friable) asbestos was used in some kinds of:

  • Spray-on insulation or soundproofing
  • Loose-fill roof insulation
  • Brick and plaster sealants
  • Fillers
  • Adhesives

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

It is highly recommended that all asbestos is dealt with by a qualified asbestos removalist, which can be found through:

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

Do not use high-pressure hoses, compressed air or power tools on anything where you suspect asbestos is present. High pressure from water hoses, compressed air and power tools can crumble asbestos further, contaminating your home’s air and water.

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 it as soon 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 WorkSafe a specified number of days before they can start the work, so you’ll have to wait a minimum of:

  • 5 days for:
    • All friable asbestos removal jobs
    • 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 found out you have been breathing in asbestos particles from your building? 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 WorkSafe 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 website at www.worksafe.vic.gov.au