A business must not carry out, or direct or allow a worker to carry out, work involving asbestos unless it is authorised and undertaken in accordance with the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 (SA).

Work involving asbestos covers the:

  • manufacture
  • supply
  • transport
  • store
  • removal
  • use
  • installation
  • reuse
  • handling
  • treatment
  • disposal, or
  • distribution of asbestos or ACM.

Authorised work undertaken in accordance with the WHS regulations, includes:

  • genuine research and analysis
  • sampling and identification
  • maintenance of, or service work on, non-friable asbestos or ACM, fixed or installed before 31 December 2003
  • removal or disposal of asbestos or ACM, including demolition
  • the transport and disposal of asbestos or asbestos waste in accordance with the Environment Protection Act 1993
  • demonstrations, education or practical training in relation to asbestos or ACM
  • display, or preparation or maintenance for display, of an artefact or thing that is, or includes, asbestos or ACM
  • management in accordance with these regulations of in situ asbestos that was installed or fixed before 31 December 2003
  • laundering asbestos contaminated clothing.
  • soil that a competent person has determined—
    • does not contain any visible ACM or friable asbestos; or
    • work that disturbs asbestos during mining operations that involve the extraction of, or exploration for, a mineral other than asbestos
  • naturally occurring asbestos managed in accordance with an asbestos management plan.

Prohibited activities

A PCBU or employers is prohibited from using, or directing or allowing a worker to use, certain tools and work methods when working with asbestos-containing materials.

When working with, or removing, asbestos-containing materials:

  • never use compressed air or abrasive blasting
  • never use high pressure water cleaners
  • never use power tools, such as angle grinders, circular saws and electric sanders (unless enclosed or used with a device or process that prevents dust)
  • never use household vacuum cleaners even if they have a HEPA filter (only specially designed cleaners for work with asbestos can be used).

All of these activities are very dangerous as they can release large numbers of asbestos fibres in to the air.

Use  of high-pressure water spray equipment on asbestos roofs

South Australian laws prohibit the use of certain tools and work methods when working with asbestos-containing materials (ACM) as they can generate dangerous airborne asbestos fibres. It is illegal to use high pressure water spray equipment on asbestos, including asbestos cement roofs, fences and walls. High pressure water spray equipment destroys the binding matrix of ACM, leaving cement debris and asbestos in the air. This results in widespread contamination putting people’s health at risk.

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a duty to ensure workers and others are not exposed to the risk of airborne asbestos. The person with management or control of the workplace (PMCW) must also take all reasonable steps to ensure that any ACM has been identified at the workplace. If the PMCW cannot identify ACM, but a competent person reasonably believes materials may contain asbestos, then the PMCW must assume asbestos is present.

Ways to manage health and safety

You should never use high-pressure water spray equipment to prepare for painting, coating or sealing of asbestos cement roofs as there is no system of use that can effectively capture or suppress asbestos fibres in such circumstances. A PCBU must not use, direct, or allow a worker to use high pressure spray on asbestos or ACM. Before carrying out maintenance of a roof, consider whether asbestos could be present. When working on buildings constructed before 1990, it is likely asbestos could be present in roofing and other sheet materials.

Identifying asbestos or ACM is the first step in managing the risk of exposure to asbestos. As there may be more than one person in the workplace responsible for this duty, it is important that all duty holders consult, cooperate and coordinate with each other as well as consulting with workers and health and safety representatives. There may be a person within the business who is competent to identify asbestos. If there is not, an external competent person should be engaged.

There are a number of ways to control the risks associated with asbestos or ACM in the workplace. PCBU’s must always aim to eliminate the hazard and associated risk first, for example by removing the asbestos sheeting.

If it is not reasonably practicable to remove the asbestos, then other control measures must be implemented to ensure people are not exposed to airborne asbestos. This may involve a single control measure or a combination of different controls that provide the highest level of protection. These can include but are not limited to the following examples:

  • Enclosing the asbestos - creating a structure built around the asbestos so that it is completely covered to prevent exposure of the asbestos to air and other substances. Enclosure should only be used on non-friable asbestos where removal is not reasonably practical and where the asbestos is at risk of damage from work activities.
  • Encapsulating - the asbestos that is encapsulated in a resilient matrix (e.g., in reinforced plastics, vinyls, resins, mastics, bitumen, flexible plasters and cements) has little opportunity to release airborne asbestos unless the matrix is damaged. This type of encapsulation will seal any loose fibres into place and should be used only when the original asbestos bond is still intact.
  • Sealing - Sealing is the process of covering the surface of the material with a protective coating over the asbestos to prevent exposure to airborne asbestos. Sealing asbestos is the least effective method for controlling the release of airborne asbestos. It should only be considered as an interim control while a more effective control such as removing, or enclosing can be implemented.

Workers will need to use personal protective equipment (PPE) in combination with other effective control measures when working with asbestos. Your selection and use of PPE should be based on your risk assessment. PPE includes but not limited to disposable coveralls, gloves, boot covers, respirators and protective eyewear.

Administrative controls can be used to minimise any remaining risks (e.g. safe work practices), so far as is reasonably practicable and can include work methods or procedures that are designed to minimise exposure to asbestos fibres as well as the information, training and instruction needed to ensure workers can work safely.

Administrative control measures and PPE do not control the hazard at the source. They rely on human behaviour and supervision and used on their own tend to be the least effective in minimising risks. You must not use administrative controls exclusively to minimise the risk of falls unless it is not reasonably practicable to use a higher order control.

The control measures you put in place should be monitored and reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.