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Asbestos Dangers: What is asbestos?

General background on Asbestos usage in Australia

For a long time Asbestos was widely used in Australia in a huge range of building products. It was used and still can be found in wall sheeting and cladding, eaves, carport ceilings and roofs, corrugated roofing and fencing. It was also widely used inside Australian homes – as sheeting and cladding in bathrooms, laundries, kitchen walls and ceilings. It was used in such a wide range of those products and other products that when it was banned it was impossible to remove from all locations

Asbestos products were not only used in homes but in just about every other form of building – kindergartens, sports clubs, schools, churches, pubs and clubs and all types of work places and industrial sites.

Most of these products were stable at the time of installation and not dangerous unless disturbed, damaged, weathered or worked upon. Most of the non friable asbestos products contained about 5% – 15% asbestos – the remainder was various compounds of cement, sand, resins and bonding products.

Most asbestos building materials are usually non friable unless disturbed, broken or burnt (e.g. asbestos cement sheeting) and if damaged or broken would release only a few asbestos fibres and would not continue to do so unless disturbed again. However as these products become older they tend to degrade and the risk of contamination increases.

2 out of 3 houses built before 1987 had a range of building and household products containing asbestos. Asbestos commenced use around 1950 and continued to be widely used right through to the late 1980s.

Some asbestos is hard to identify but knowing what asbestos is in your house or workplace (or your sheds or garages) is crucial as is being aware of the state of that asbestos. Experts such as Watts Asbestos can in most cases quickly identify asbestos products in and around your home or workplace.

As a rule –

“If Asbestos containing material can be easily disturbed and become air borne it is in a friable state.”

Even an expert may need an infallible laboratory testing of products as paint or hidden layers may disguise the presence of asbestos.

Health Risks of Asbestos – Asbestos Dangers

  • Keep in mind that asbestos is widely found in our environment (usually at low levels) as it is a natural mineral.
  • There is now research that there can be health effects as a result of low-level asbestos exposure.
  • Working with asbestos products especially drilling, cutting etc. – are at a much greater risk of contracting an asbestos related disease.

People most at risk of Asbestos Disease:

  • Carpenters, Miners, Builders’ Labourers, Seagoing Personnel and Railway Workers.
  • Partners of Miners, Builders’ Labourers, Seagoing Personnel and Railway Workers (contact with their partners clothing).

Asbestos dangers are a range of life threatening related diseases that have a long, even extremely long gestation period.

There is no fixed level of exposure that can trigger diseases as even a minute inhalation of asbestos fibres can lead.

Minimising exposure is the best safety precaution there is.

Where do I go if I think I have an Asbestos Disease?

There are voluntary organisatiosn in most states with first hand experience with asbestos related diseases. Contact details in your state please follow the link to

If you work in a building built prior to 1987, Asbestos may have been used in its construction. You are entitled to see the Asbestos Register.

Asbestos Fact Sheet.

  • The use of Asbestos containing materials in building construction was discontinued in Australia – in 1987. If you have a property with buildings constructed prior to this date it may contain asbestos materials.
  • There are in excess of 3,000 known processed asbestos products.
  • Asbestos products were manufactured in two forms – friable and non-friable. Over 97% of the products in Australia were non-friable – characterised by material in which the Asbestos fibres are bonded by cement, vinyl, resin or other similar material.
  • If accidentally damaged or broken even non-friable products will release fibres.
  • Friable asbetsos is any materials which can be crumbled, pulverised, or reduced to powder by hand pressure. It is highly dangerous. This may also include previously non friable material which becomes broken or damaged by mechanical force.
  • As Asbestos products were very versatile they could be easliy molded, shaped, cut drilled or painted. There is no conclusive on-site testing for the presence of asbestos. Asbestos products can only conclusively be determined through laboratory testing following sampling. The sampling process is simple and involves safe collection and labelling of samples using personal protection equipment to minimise exposure.

Friable Asbestos

  • The hazardous friable asbestos is material which can be crumbled, pulverised, or reduced to powder by hand pressure. This may also include previously non-friable material which becomes broken or damaged by mechanical force.
  • As a general rule – If the Asbestos containing material can be easily disturbed and become air borne – by the effect of a breeze or simply creating a breeze by walking past it – it is in a friable state.
  • Friable rope and lagging is a woven asbestos fire blanket and is extremely dangerous.

Working on Asbestos – DIY or Contractor?
Working safely with non-friable asbestos is fraught with dangers for the untrained:

  • Initiating an emergency procedure
  • Drilling or Cutting Holes in Asbestos Sheeting
  • Making safe cracks or exposed edges to Asbestos sheet
  • Cleaning up Asbestos sheet debris
  • Lifting & removing small quantities of Asbestos containing floor materials
  • Removal of fence panels, eaves or wall lining

Transport asbestos containing material?
The Asbestos regulations introduced, apply to commercial Asbestos work – that is:

  • Any one who intends to charge you to remove more than 10 m2 of Non-Friable Asbestos containing material. (A Restricted Asbestos Removal License is required)
  • Any one who intends to charge you to remove Friable Asbestos material.
  • (We recommend you engage a contractor with a Full (unrestricted) Asbestos Removal License )
  • Any Trades person can remove up to 10m2 of Non-Friable Asbestos containing material without an Asbestos license, but they must do so in accordance with the Regulations and Codes of Practice. (They need a BLUE CARD)


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