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 Defence Organisation.
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.
In the workplace
The types of occupations and trades most likely to come in contact with asbestos include those in construction-related trades, fire and burglar alarm installers, maintenance workers, painters and decorators and automotive repair workers. However, anyone can potentially come into contact with asbestos.
In order to avoid risk, South Australia Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations prescribe a number of duties for building owners and person in possession or control of asbestos. These duties apply to all types of installed asbestos or materials containing asbestos in buildings, plants and equipment.
The following Adobe PDF version of a 2010 Asbestos Safety presentation produced by the government of South Australia provides an overview of asbestos in the workplace including images of friable and non-friable asbestos and an overview of relevant legislation.
Download a copy of the Keep safety at the heart of your workplace presentation.
Asbestos management plan
Building owners and employers are required to develop an asbestos management plan to identify and provide signage for where asbestos is present, assess the condition of asbestos containing materials and the potential for their risk to health and how these will be controlled or removed.
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
For a range of publications and resources on Asbestos Removal, Licensing and Demolition, visit the SafeWork SA web site.