What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of long, fibrous crystals. Starting in the late 1800s, manufacturers used asbestos because of its sound absorption and resistance to heat, electrical and chemical damage. It was used widely in flooring, fencing, as insulation for roofs and pipes and in automobile brake pads, shoes and clutch discs.
The inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious illnesses including malignant cancers and the lung disease asbestosis.
All forms of asbestos are now banned in Australia with an exemption for a specific type used in mission critical applications by the Australian Defense Organisation.
Asbestos as a building material
As a building material, there are two types of asbestos. Friable asbestos materials are those that are easily crumbled and pose significant health risks. Friable asbestos was typically used in pipe lagging, insulation and asbestos-backed vinyl floor tiles. Non-friable asbestos can usually be found bound into cement sheeting, vinyl floor tiles, water or flu pipes or other products produced prior to 1980. If left undisturbed, non-friable asbestos produces no known health risks. This includes drinking rain water that has run off an asbestos roof.
If a house was built or renovated before the late 1980s, it could contain asbestos products. It is impossible to determine by sight whether or not a product contains asbestos.
For more information on asbestos, download an Adobe PDF copy of the Public Health Fact Sheet: Asbestos - frequently asked questions document.
For DIY renovators
While there is no legal requirement for homeowners to have a license to remove asbestos containing material (ACM) when they are undertaking the work themselves, there are legal requirements when it comes to its disposal. However, due to the risk of exposure during removal for both the renovator and those nearby, it is strongly advised that renovators contract professionals to remove friable asbestos and take safety control measures to minimise health risks from exposure to asbestos fibres.
Advising neighbours that you will be removing asbestos allows them to take steps to minimise their risk such as keeping doors and windows shut and not hanging clothing out to dry.
For more information, download an Adobe PDF copy of the SafeWorkSA guide Asbestos and the home renovator. You can also find information on the proper transport and disposal of asbestos products on the EPA web site. Please note that the Pooraka Waste Transfer Station will not accept asbestos waste.
When engaging a contractor
If you are engaging a contractor to undertake work on your home, an asbestos removal licence is required if a contractor is engaged to remove more than 0.5 m2 of friable asbestos or more than 10 m2 of non-friable asbestos. Regardless of whether a license is required, work must be done in accordance with the Code of Practice for Safe Removal of Asbestos and the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations of 1995
Asbestos and the home mechanic
There are still many vehicles that have asbestos in their brake pads/shoes, gaskets or clutch plates. While performing maintenance work on your vehicle you may become exposed to asbestos. You can minimise your risk by wearing appropriate protective clothing and following safe work procedures.
For details, download an Adobe PDF copy of the SafeWork SA guide Asbestos and the home mechanic.