Regulatory framework for asbestos management and removal
Australia imposed a total ban on the mining, manufacture and use of asbestos on 31 December 2003, including chrysotile asbestos. This ban was the culmination of many years of smaller bans and restrictions put in place by Australian State or Territory governments to limit the damage of asbestos on the community.
Because of the prolonged use of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in a number ofseveral industries across Australia, it now faces a massive problem of legacy ACMs which are present in both domestic housing and commercial infrastructure. Over 1.5 million tonnes of all forms of asbestos were imported into Australia between 1930-1983[i]. This combined with locally mined asbestos, resulted in an estimated 12.8 million tonnes of asbestos containing materials being placed in the built environment from 1920 through to 2003. Eventually all this material will require removal and disposal.
To ensure that management and removal of legacy ACMs is achieved safely there needs to be:
- a national strategic plan to drive, focus and coordinate efforts to address asbestos-related issues across communities
- systems of laws, regulations and guidance across the workplace, public health and environment to protect the community from asbestos exposure. Identification, management, removal, transportation and disposal of ACMs all need to be strictly controlled so as not to put the workforce and broader community at risk. The laws need to be aligned so they complement each other and include significant penalties for breaches of them. There also needs to be an inspectorate established to enforce compliance with the laws.
Developing a National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management
Having a national strategic plan ensures there is consistent and coordinated approach to asbestos awareness, management and removal. A national strategic plan provides the framework to direct and coordinate asbestos management and awareness over several years or decades.
The national strategic plan should contain:
- An aim – for example, to eliminate asbestos related-diseases in Australia (or other Country) by preventing exposure to asbestos fibres.
- Priority areas for action – these are critical areas that must be addressed to improve awareness and management. The priority areas should relate to the asbestos life cycle (i.e., identification, management, removal and disposal). Priority areas include:
- Improve asbestos awareness to influence behavioural change
- Identification and effective legacy management
- Safe removal, handling and storage
- Effective waste management.
- Targets – the plan should contain practical and achievable targets to focus activities and to allow the measurement of progress.
Australia’s National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management 2019-2023 is an example of such an approach.
Systems of laws, regulations and guidance across the workplace, public health, environment and transport to protect the community from asbestos exposure.
Effective management of the health risks that arise from potential exposure to asbestos requires systems of laws, regulations and guidance to be in place across the workplace, public health and the environment. Identification, management, removal, transportation and disposal of asbestos needs to be strictly controlled so as not to put the workforce and broader community at risk. The laws need to be aligned so they complement each other and include significant penalties for breaches of them. There also needs to be an inspectorate established to enforce compliance with the laws. An example of Australian’s regulatory framework for asbestos is provided below.
Australia's Regulatory Framework
Public Health Laws
The laws set out a general duty to prevent or minimize harm to the public. Breaching this duty attracts substantial penalties (fines or imprisonment). A person removing asbestos-containing materials is responsible for taking all reasonable steps to prevent or minimize any harm to public health caused by, or likely to be caused by, anything done or omitted to be done by the person.
The public health legislation allows the appointment of local government officials who have wide powers to support enforcement of the Act. An example of such powers is to enter a property to take samples and investigate if asbestos fibers have been released that may cause harm to public health.
Work Health and Safety Laws
The primary focus of the work health and safety legislative framework is the creation of a safe work environment by eliminating or controlling risks so far as is reasonably practicable. Work health and safety legal obligations consist of general duties often contained in primary legislation (Principal Act) which defines obligations in terms of broad goals and can set performance outcomes or targets. There are also prescriptive standards which specify the required action to be taken as well as process-based standards which set out ways to address work health and safety matters. These standards and processes are often contained in subordinate legislation (Regulations) which sets out specific requirements for particular hazards like asbestos. There can also be codes of practice or guidance which provide practical information on how the requirements can be met in the Act and Regulations.
The key principles of asbestos risk management in workplaces are for employers and persons with management and control of workplaces to:
- identify the asbestos-containing materials and products in workplaces
- assess the risks of people’s exposure to asbestos fibres – including risks to employees, contractors, customers and anyone else that may be affected (e.g., neighbouring businesses or residents)
- implement control measures that eliminate or minimise exposure to asbestos fibres
- review and monitor the control measures to ensure they remain effective
- consult with employees and other duty-holders during the whole process to:
- seek their input and gain support for the asbestos management plan, and
- keep them informed on risk controls.
Throughout this process it is advisable to draw on the expertise of competent asbestos professionals, asbestos removalists, waste transporters and disposal facility managers.
Identify Asbestos Containing Materials
Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in good condition are relatively safe if they remain undisturbed and undamaged.
Options to identify asbestos are:
1. hiring a competent person to conduct a full asbestos assessment of the premises. They may take samples to confirm the presence of asbestos in certain products.
2. identifying products that were manufactured or imported that are likely to contain asbestos.
Then for each product, either:
- take a sample of the suspected asbestos and send it to a laboratory for testing, or
- assume asbestos is present in those products and apply asbestos management controls
Creating an asbestos register
An Asbestos Register is the foundation of the workplace’s asbestos management plan and should be provided to all workers and contractors so that they know where asbestos is located and can avoid disturbing or damaging it. It should include:
- the product name and location
- the type of material (e.g., lagging, cloth, asbestos cement)
- whether it is friable or non-friable
- the condition of the material
- The condition of the product is particularly important. Observations to note include:
- is the surface of the material damaged, frayed or scratched?
- are the surface sealants peeling, “feathering” or breaking off?
- is any sprayed material or lagging separating from the pipe or surface?
- are protective coverings missing or damaged?
- is there asbestos dust or debris near the material?
Table 1 below is a method for classifying the condition of the product.
Photographs (date-stamped) and sketches of the asbestos in place will record the condition of the ACM at that time. These can be used to track any changes in the material and indicate when removal or maintenance is required.
The Asbestos Register should be reviewed at least once a year to ensure it is up to date and to record any changes to asbestos materials. Other triggers for reviewing and updating the Asbestos Register include:
- after an incident that impacts or may have impacted ACMs
- replacement of ACMs
- when work has been done on or around ACMs
Assess the Risk of Exposure
Assessing the risk of exposure to asbestos fibers means understanding how likely it is for the fibers to be released and inhaled. The risk assessment takes three factors into consideration: the friability and type of material, the condition the product is currently in, and its disturbance potential.
Friability and type of material
This factor ranks how friable the type of material is. As previously described, friable asbestos means asbestos that is loosely contained in materials that could easily be crushed by hand, and non-friable asbestos is where asbestos fibers are bound in firm material such as concrete or mastic.
The type of material that binds asbestos fibers dictates the potential for airborne asbestos to be released into the air. For example, a loosely bound sprayed (or limpet) coating is more likely to release fibers when disturbed than asbestos cement in which fibers are firmly bound.
The following figure ranks different types of asbestos according to the likelihood that airborne asbestos can be released into the air when deteriorated, damaged or disturbed. The higher the likelihood of fiber release, the higher the risk of exposure.
NOTE: All ACMs release asbestos fibers if they are disturbed, damaged or deteriorated.
Condition of the product
The condition of asbestos containing materials indicates how friable the product is or may become (refer to Table 1).
If non-friable ACMs are in good condition and left undisturbed, fibers are unlikely to be released into the air and therefore the exposure risk is lower. However, if the asbestos or ACM has deteriorated, has been damaged, or if asbestos-contaminated dust is present, the likelihood of asbestos fibers becoming airborne is increased and so is the exposure risk.
This factor identifies all workplace activities, actions or conditions around ACMs that could disrupt the bonds that hold the asbestos fibers in place and how often these occur.
Questions to ask include:
- what is the area used for?
- who has access?
- how often is it used?
- is it a highly trafficked area?
- could it be subject to mechanical damage e.g., forklifts and vehicles or movement of equipment
- is it exposed to weathering or air movement?
- is it used by members of the public?
- Is it used or accessed by children or groups that may be more prone to cause damage (e.g., schools)?
- is it the asbestos in an area where chemicals are used that may cause deterioration of the material?
- is it subject to vibration?
Examples of asbestos disturbance include:
- accidental impact from forklifts driving adjacent to asbestos cement sheet walls
- vibration of asbestos insulation caused by plumbers working on the other end of the pipe where there is no asbestos insulation
- electricians wiring in a ceiling space sprayed with material containing friable asbestos
- deterioration of asbestos cement wall and roof by fumes from an acid bath located nearby
- a door handle that impacts an asbestos cement wall every time it is opened
- vibration of asbestos limpet by the operation of manufacturing equipment
Using the factors to rate the likelihood of airborne asbestos fibers
Referring to the friability, the condition and the disturbance potential, the following terms can be used to rate the likelihood of asbestos fibers being released for each identified ACM. (There are other risk rating tools and criteria available on the internet). The likelihood rating process is best done with a group of people to agree on the rating. Once the rating is agreed to, this can be noted in the Asbestos Register.
The final step is to assess the overall risk of exposure to assist in deciding which controls are appropriate and how quickly they need to be applied. There are risk rating matrices available internationally to assist with ranking the risks using categories such as: extreme, high, medium, and low risk.
Note: All asbestos carries a health risk until it is safely disposed of
Rank the products from the highest risk of releasing fibers to the lowest. This ranking enables prioritization for implementation of control measures to the highest ranked ACMs first.
Control the Risks
Hierarchy of control measures
The hierarchy of control measures orders the most effective ways to control risks at the top to the least effective at the bottom:
- Eliminating the risk (removing/substituting the asbestos)
- Isolating the risk or applying engineering controls (for example, enclosing, encapsulation, sealing)
- Using administrative controls (for example, safe work procedures, using appropriate tools and training)
- Using personal protective equipment (respirators, disposable gloves, goggles, coveralls)
The ACMs rated the highest risk of releasing fibers should be eliminated from the workplace by professional removal as soon as possible.
The preferred outcome for all ACMs is to eliminate the risk of asbestos exposure by removing it from the workplace. However, if it is not possible, or if it is in good condition, then the other controls for minimizing the risk should be considered.
Other than elimination, a combination of these controls may be required in order to adequately manage and control asbestos or ACM.
Eliminating the risk - Removing asbestos
Even where asbestos is contained or in good condition, there is always a risk of fiber release until the ACMs are removed and disposed of by burial in a landfill.
Asbestos must be removed and disposed of by qualified and trained professionals and in accordance with all workplace laws.
Examples of where removal may be the best control measure include:
- asbestos lagging on pipes in moderate condition in a high-traffic area
- asbestos-contaminated dust (ACD) in areas accessible by people
- loose fibre insulation in ceilings is highly friable and should be prioritised for removal
- cracked or damaged fibreboard containing asbestos in an open area
Managing asbestos in place – isolation and engineering controls
Where it is not reasonable for asbestos be removed, it must be managed to minimize the risk of asbestos fibers being released. Using the hierarchy of controls, this may be done through a combination of the remaining control options - isolation/engineering, administrative and personal protective equipment controls.
Isolating the risk – Enclosing, encapsulating, or sealing asbestos
Where it is not reasonably practicable to remove non-friable asbestos that is in good, fair, or medium condition, the preferred alternative control measure is enclosure.
What is enclosure?
Enclosure involves building a solid structure (such as using plywood) around the asbestos to protect it from damage and inadvertent access. The structure needs to:
- allow regular inspection of the ACM’s condition
- prevent impact to the ACM – e.g., an enclosure of an asbestos cement wall in a warehouse may also require protective bollards to prevent accidental forklift impact of both the enclosure and ACM.
If the asbestos cannot be removed or enclosed, encapsulation or sealing will be the next appropriate control measure.
What is encapsulation?
Encapsulation means binding asbestos in a resilient compound to minimize the release of fibers. Examples of encapsulant compounds include reinforced plastics, vinyls, resins, mastics, bitumen, flexible plasters and cements. Encapsulation will bind loose fibers into place and should be used only when the original asbestos bond is still intact.
Encapsulation helps protect the asbestos from mechanical damage and can be used as an interim measure to extend the life of an asbestos product until it can be safely removed. Encapsulation can also be used to strengthen asbestos materials during removal.
What is sealing?
Sealing is the process of covering the surface of the material with a protective coating. This only covers the material to minimize asbestos fiber release. This is opposed to encapsulation where the compound binds the asbestos fibers within the compound.
Speak to suppliers and experts to select a suitable coating for the material and its use. The coating (sealant) may deteriorate if it is exposed to chemicals, extreme heat or cold, wet or dry conditions or physical impacts. The ACM’s location may require the sealant to provide fire resistance, thermal insulation or ultraviolet (UV) protection.
Choosing a different colored sealant to the underlying asbestos can ensure complete coverage during application and assist with monitoring its condition over time.
The surface on which the sealant is to be applied should be cleaned first with:
- a low-pressure hose and then left to dry
- a HEPA filtered H-Class industrial vacuum cleaner (not an ordinary house-hold vacuum-cleaner) or
- a wet disposable cloth
These actions capture any loose dust or debris from the surface and ensure good adhesion of the sealant. Do not use sandpaper to prepare the surface.
Apply the sealant using an airless sprayer at low pressure. Several coatings may be needed for full protection. Rollers and brushes should not be used because they cause abrasion or damage to unsealed asbestos and result in fibers being released.
These controls help employees and contractors know where asbestos is, what to do to prevent fiber release and what to do in an emergency. Administrative controls include asbestos registers, signs, training, emergency procedures and safe work instructions. Examples include:
- guidance on what tools should be used on or near ACMs
- signage not to use power tools on or near the asbestos
- procedures for operating machinery near ACMs
Personal protective equipment
The provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) is the last line of defense to protect workers if fibers are released by the work they are doing. PPE relies on workers wearing it correctly and is only effective if it fits properly and is used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Develop of Asbestos Management Plan
An Asbestos Management Plan sets out how the identified ACM will be managed to prevent or minimize risks to health of workers and others.
An Asbestos Management Plan includes:
- a reference or link to the Asbestos Register
- the risk rating for asbestos fibre exposure and control measures for each identified ACM
- decisions, and reasons for the decisions, about the control measures applied
- prioritised schedules for implementing control measures including removing asbestos
- schedules and procedures for monitoring and reviewing:
- the condition of each ACM
- the Asbestos Register
- asbestos control measures
- the Asbestos Management Plan
- procedures for responding to accidents, incidents or emergencies of asbestos exposure
- procedures for carrying out work involving asbestos
- how and what information and training will be provided to workers and contractors regarding the health hazard of asbestos, prevention of fibre release and location of asbestos at the workplace
- identification of persons responsible for taking action under the Asbestos Management Plan.
Once implemented, the Asbestos Management Plan should be reviewed annually to:
- assess whether the ACM’s condition has changed
- ensure the controls are still effective.
The Asbestos Management Plan remains active for as long as there is asbestos in the workplace. To keep it up to date and effective, it should also be reviewed whenever asbestos has been damaged, removed or repaired.
When arranging for professionals to carry out any demolition or refurbishment work, the person with management or control of the workplaces should:
- review the asbestos register to ensure it is up to date
- provide a copy of the asbestos register to the person carrying out the demolition or refurbishment before the work starts
- ensure asbestos that is likely to be disturbed is identified and either removed or protected before the demolition or refurbishment starts (if asbestos removal is not part of the work).
After any demolition or refurbishment work is complete, the Asbestos Register and the Asbestos Management Plan should both be updated.
Environmental and transport laws
The primary focus of environmental and transport laws is to prevent the pollution of the environment. The transport and disposal of asbestos must be done in accordance with those laws.
Asbestos waste life cycle
The main components of an asbestos waste management system are:
- Regulation – a comprehensive, complementary and consistent set of laws across public health, environment, work health and safety, hazardous substances which contains a strong penalty regime that acts as a deterrent and is supported by a compliance and enforcement policy.
- Infrastructure – a stable and secure asbestos disposal industry with a network of licenced operators to remove and transport asbestos waste safely and a convenient network of disposal facilities.
- Disposal pricing – an inexpensive, predictive and secure pricing structure for the disposal of asbestos waste which does not incentivise unsafe removal or illegal disposal.
- Classification and tracking – a consistent and risk-based approach to classifying asbestos waste and an electronic tracking system for hazardous waste including asbestos which can assist regulators to enforce the laws across the asbestos waste life cycle.
- Community understanding – high levels of understanding within the community about asbestos and suitable local options for disposing it.
Asbestos waste transport
The transport and disposal of asbestos must occur in a manner that eliminates the release of airborne asbestos fibres, by ensuring:
- bagged asbestos waste is securely packaged in labelled containers
- packing material and waste containers must be protected, secured and remain intact during transport and unloading
- waste is unloaded at the landfill site using waste disposal procedures which prevent the tearing of the polythene lining
- any packaging that is damaged must be replaced or repaired prior to disposal
- vehicles should be carefully cleaned after transporting asbestos waste.
Every vehicle carrying asbestos waste in a quantity of over 500kg, or 500 litres is considered a placarded load and must display Dangerous Goods Class label 9 signage (the size of the label must be no less than 250mm square), at the front and the rear of the vehicle.
Asbestos waste disposal
The asbestos waste must be disposed of at a licensed asbestos waste disposal site of as soon as reasonably practicable, whether that is:
- at the end of the removal job (providing the asbestos waste is secured on site at the end of each day to prevent unauthorised access)
- when the waste containers are full
- at the end of each day if the asbestos waste cannot be secured at the removal site.
Management of asbestos waste at landfills
Licenced asbestos waste landfill facilities are required to handle and cover asbestos waste in such a manner that no dust is generated. The procedures for landfilling asbestos typically involve digging a hole in the general waste, depositing the asbestos and immediately covering it with soil. Some sites store asbestos in a skip bin near the entrance to the site for transport and burial at the end of the day; others are required to deposit each load immediately on arrival. When not receiving waste, any containers used for temporary storage at a site must be covered.
The following landfilling practices are recommended for asbestos waste disposal:
- before compacting, cover with a layer of soil at least 300mm thick or with a layer of waste at least 1m thick
- asbestos must not be deposited within 2m of the final tipping surface of the landfill
- when not receiving waste, any containers used for temporary storage at a site must be covered (e.g., lined skip bin with lid)
- preferably a dedicated cell of a landfill should be used for asbestos disposal and that this area be clearly marked on the site map