Asbestos management and removal in Victoria


Asbestos is one of the most versatile products known to man. It is light, very durable, fire retardant, cheap to produce and has seemingly endless applications from insulation to brake pads. However, the strength of the asbestos fibre is also what makes it so terribly hazardous to human health.

Under a microscope, we observe friable (loose) asbestos to be hundreds of long, fine, needle like strands crossing over one another like a bale of hay. These long, thin strands are hazardous to humans within our pulmonary system, or airways because they are too large for the body to absorb and too strong to break down. As a result roll around the lungs for years, like a nail in a can, causing irreversible scarring which leads to breathing complications, this condition is referred to as ‘asbestosis’.

Types of asbestos containing material (ACM)

Asbestos containing material (ACM) is defined by Safe Work Australia within the document ‘How to manage and control asbestos in the workplace’, as ‘any material or thing that, as part of its design, contains asbestos’. There are two general types of ACM outlined within the Victorian legislation which attract different procedural requirements and as such must be defined.

Friable ACM

Friable asbestos is the most hazardous state of asbestos to humans because it is ‘fluffy’ or ‘crumbly’ and fibres can easily enter the atmosphere where they may enter the respiratory system of unsuspecting workers or bystanders. Friable asbestos as a ‘rule of thumb’ is fluffy or crumbly or in another state where it could be pulverised with the pressure of a human hand (not recommended!) and as such, has a high likelihood of entering the atmosphere in a fibrous state.

Example of friable asbestos include:

  • Separated asbestos sheeting;
  • Matting / coverings; and
  • Insulation.

Non-friable ACM

Non-friable asbestos is in a lessor hazardous state because it remains within an acrylic bond with another substance. This is of a less hazardous nature because there is a lower likelihood of the asbestos becoming airborne which could result in it being breathed in.

Examples of non-friable asbestos include:

  • Asbestos wall sheeting;
  • Asbestos tiling; and
  • Asbestos roofing.

The first port of call is to find out if and where you have asbestos within your business

Asbestos audits can be undertaken on your business assets, these registers identify visible asbestos and record its’ presence in a register. This register and briefing regarding workplace asbestos must be given to any tradespeople contracted to undertake work at your assets. It is also best practice to affix ‘asbestos hazard’ stickers to ACM surfaces as a warning to others or if the register is misread.

Information regarding asbestos registers can be found here.

Management of asbestos removal in Victorian workplaces

The best thing your company can do when the decision is made to remove asbestos is to isolate the suspected area with temporary fencing at a safe distance and affix signage stating ‘CAUTION: ASBESTOS’ to ensure no member of the public enters the area where the asbestos hazard exists. Ensure your safety store is providing you Australian standard signage and equipment and always keep your receipts.

Leave the clearance work to a licensed removalist, get your procedures develop or at least reviewed by an expert and remember to keep all your receipts, documentation and other records for later referral.

Friable ACM (Any quantity)

If any amount of friable ACM is found on your site, you may only use a ‘Class A’ licenced removalist to undertake the removal of the asbestos from your site. This is due to the greater likelihood for the asbestos to enter airways and as such, these removalists have a more intensive training course to adequately prepare them to undertake the work. Upon contacting the removalist regarding friable ACM, a notification must be made to VWA as per the paragraph below.

Friable ACM requires an Occupational Hygienist to sign off the clearance certificate as air monitoring must be undertaken as part of the inspection to ensure the atmosphere is free of the hazardous fibres.

Non-friable ACM >10m2

If non-friable ACM is found on your site, you will be required to use a ‘Class B’ or ‘Class A’ licence asbestos removalist to undertake the removal. Upon contacting the removalist regarding non-friable ACM, a notification must be made to VWA as per the paragraph below.

Non-friable ACM does not require an Occupational Hygienist to sign off the clearance certificate as a ‘visual’ inspection is required and can be completed by the licensed removalist.

VWA must be notified in writing

As per guidelines below, using this form:

  • At least 5 days before commencing removal for a) friable asbestos removal jobs and b) non-friable asbestos removal jobs that involve removing greater than 10 square  metres of non-friable asbestos
  • At least 24 hours before commencing removal for non-friable asbestos removal jobs that are less than 10 square metres in total
  • Within 24 hours of commencing an asbestos removal job if the asbestos removal job is classed as an unexpected situation as per regulation 4.3.98 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007.

Clearance: Can I do it myself?

It is legally possible to remove asbestos from a workplace without using a removalist, however, ensure you are undertaking everything as per the VWA Compliance Code: Removing asbestos in workplaces. However honestly, if you are considering this, give us a call because this area is frought with danger and a variety of complex requriements which must be met to keep your team safe.

It is best practice to have policies and procedures developed in the event that asbestos is identified within your workplace to provide your management and staff with a clear, practical understanding of their responsibilities.

Get in touch with SafetyZone OHS consultants for practical asbestos and other safety guidance.