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Identifying asbestos on site

This resource provides guidance on how to find out whether materials containing asbestos are present in a building or structure. It also includes the basic matters required to be determined prior to undertaking any asbestos removal work, including removal work that is allowed to be undertaken without a licence.

Where can asbestos be found?

Asbestos was used widely in construction and other products from the 1950s to the 1980s. Many of these products, buildings and structures are still in place today.  

Asbestos used in construction ranged from basic building materials such as fibro-cement sheeting, fibro-cement pipes, conduits and flues to floor vinyl, vinyl tiles, mastics, sealants, decorative materials, thermal insulation, and fire protection.

In Australia, the use of asbestos in fibro-cement products was phased out by 1987 but the use of asbestos in some products was not discontinued until 2003.

The Model Code of Practice - How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace lists common examples of the materials known to contain asbestos. This code can be downloaded from the Federal Government’s Safe Work Australia webpage.

Finding out if asbestos is present

The best way to ascertain whether asbestos is present in a building or other structure is to ask the owner/occupier for the Asbestos Register for the premises.   

Asbestos Registers contain relevant information regarding any asbestos present, such as location, amount, type, condition, risk, etc. These are required by law for premises other than domestic premises in most states and territories.   

Some states contain provisions requiring asbestos to be deemed as present if there is no asbestos register or if there is doubt about the absence of asbestos.  In such cases, a competent person (a licenced assessor is required in the ACT) should establish whether or not asbestos is present and produce an Asbestos Register. 

Prior to undertaking any activity that may affect asbestos (e.g. demolition, refurbishment, or asbestos removal work) it is also a requirement to assess whether the asbestos is classed as “friable” or “non-friable”. 

This is a key determinant of whether the asbestos can be removed without a licence, the type of licence required and the safety provisions applicable for its removal.  These details can be found in the Asbestos Register for the premises.   

Is asbestos “friable” or “non-friable”?

Asbestos is typically referred to as either friable or non-friable (or “bonded”).   

Friable asbestos

This is material that is in a powder form or that can be crumbled, pulverised, or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry, and contains asbestos.

Examples include asbestos in its raw form, loose asbestos, sprayed asbestos insulation, and asbestos lagging. It may also include asbestos which ends up in this state because of weathering, physical damage, or deterioration under its conditions of use. 

Non-friable asbestos

This is material containing asbestos that is not friable asbestos and includes material containing asbestos fibres reinforced with a bonding compound.

Examples where asbestos fibres are within a bonding compound are vinyl floor tiles, fibro-cement flat and corrugated sheets, and fibro-cement flue, conduit and drainage pipes. 

Non-friable asbestos may become friable asbestos through deterioration.  

Exact definitions of friable/non-friable vary from state to state. Some states may deem some types of asbestos to be friable for removal licensing and other regulatory purposes, so check with your state safety authority to determine how the asbestos is classed.

To find out more, contact HIA's Building Services team.

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