Asbestos: Safety basics

Understand health and safety requirements for managing and removing asbestos in workplaces.


What is asbestos

Asbestos is the name for a group of minerals that were used to manufacture a wide range of products including many that were used in Australian buildings until the mid-late 1980s. Exposure to asbestos fibres may cause diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

Scientific studies reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, 2012) show that asbestos can also cause cancer of the larynx and ovaries and is also associated with pharynx, stomach and colorectal cancer.

Asbestos exposure standard

The asbestos exposure standard does not represent a 'risk free' level at which every employee can be guaranteed absolute protection from any asbestos related illness. Nor does the asbestos exposure standard constitute a 'fine line' between satisfactory and unsatisfactory working conditions.

Asbestos is banned

Use of asbestos is banned in Australia. You must not import, manufacture, supply, sell, use or reuse asbestos or products that contain asbestos. The asbestos ban came into force at the end of 2003. However, some materials containing asbestos may inadvertently be imported.

Under the law there are duties and requirements for managing asbestos in workplaces, working with asbestos and removing asbestos.

Further information on imports and processes can be found on the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and Australian Border Force websites.

Managing asbestos in the workplace

Buildings and products from before 2004 may still contain asbestos. Until the 1980s it was manufactured, sold and used in various forms like:

  • vinyl floor tiles
  • cement roof sheeting and wall lining
  • lagging and jointing material
  • fire blankets

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) require employers and those with management or control of workplaces to identify and control risks associated with asbestos. For example, there are duties relating to identifying asbestos in workplaces, labelling it, keeping an asbestos register and controlling risks to health associated with asbestos.

Removing asbestos

In most cases, asbestos removal must be done by a licensed removalist. Unlicensed removal of limited amounts of non-friable asbestos is permitted under certain circumstances.

Licensed removalists must comply with particular requirements when removing asbestos. They must notify WorkSafe when removing asbestos.

Asbestos in Victorian government buildings

The Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency (VAEA) is establishing a register of asbestos in Victorian government buildings and advising the government on priorities for removal.

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Asbestos in Victoria

The Asbestos in Victoria website contains guidance from WorkSafe, EPA and DHHS to help homeowners, tenants, employers and employees understand the risks of asbestos, and an interactive tool to guide you through the process of finding and identifying asbestos in your home or workplace.

Visit the asbestos website