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Asbestos

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An Australia-wide ban on the manufacture and use of all types of asbestos and Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) took effect on 31 December 2003. Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws in all states and territories prohibit the supply, transport, use, or handling of asbestos unless an exception or exemption applies.

In order to support the domestic ban:

  • Importation of asbestos or ACM to Australia without permission is prohibited pursuant to Regulation 4C of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956.
  • Exportation of asbestos or ACM from Australia without permission is prohibited pursuant to Regulation 4 of the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958, other than where lawful exceptions apply.

Australia is one of the few countries that impose an absolute ban on asbestos. In most countries, low amounts or particular types of asbestos are allowable (for example, chrysotile can be used in certain countries). Goods manufactured outside Australia can be labelled “asbestos free” and still contain a low amount or type of asbestos. Such goods will not be permitted for import into Australia, except in very limited circumstances.

We target goods considered to have a high risk of containing asbestos.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a term for a group of six naturally occurring mineral fibres belonging to two groups.

  • Serpentine Group – comprised of only chrysotile (white asbestos)
  • Amphibole Group – comprised of amosite (brown asbestos or grey asbestos), anthophyllite, crocidolite (blue asbestos), tremolite, and actinolite.

All forms of asbestos are highly toxic and carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to asbestos can cause cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings) and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs).

Asbestos has been used in a wide number of products due to its flexibility, tensile strength, insulation, chemical inertness and affordability.

ACM can be categorised as friable and non-friable.

Friable asbestos is material containing asbestos that when dry, is in powder form or could be crushed or pulverised into powder form by hand pressure. This material poses a higher risk of exposing people to airborne asbestos fibres.

Non-friable asbestos is all forms of asbestos other than friable asbestos such as asbestos cement sheeting and other materials where asbestos fibres are bonded into a matrix.

If non-friable asbestos is damaged or degraded, it might become friable and pose a higher risk of fibre release.

Both friable and non-friable asbestos pose a significant health risk to all workers and others if the ACM are not properly maintained or carefully removed when no longer required.

Goods that might contain asbestos

Asbestos is still used outside Australia in many applications. The following imported goods are considered high risk for containing asbestos and ACM:

  • Asbestos bitumen products used to damp proof
  • Asbestos rope
  • Asbestos tape
  • Brake linings or blocks
  • Cement flat sheeting or panels
  • Cement pipes, tubes or fittings
  • Cement shingles or tiles (external or ceiling)
  • Clutch linings or brake disc pads
  • Crayons
  • Diaphragms
  • Ducts
  • Electrical cloth and tapes
  • Electrical panel partitioning
  • Fire blankets
  • Fire curtains
  • Fire resistant building materials
  • Furnaces
  • Gaskets or seals
  • Gloves
  • Heat resistant sealing or caulking compounds
  • Heating equipment
  • Lagging and jointing materials
  • Mastics, sealants, putties or adhesives
  • Mineral samples for display or therapeutic purposes
  • Mixtures containing phenol formaldehyde resin or cresylic formaldehyde resin
  • Motor vehicle parts such as friction materials
  • Pipe spools
  • Raw materials from mining activities
  • Sheet vinyl backing
  • Sheeting
  • Textured paints or coatings
  • Tiles
  • Yarn and thread, cords and string, whether or not plaited

Ensuring the goods do not contain asbestos

It is the responsibility of importers and exporters to ensure they do not import or export prohibited goods such as asbestos. We must be assured that no asbestos is present at the time of import or export.

There are factors that increase the risk of importing asbestos or ACM. Definitive enquiries should be made with suppliers outside Australia about any use of asbestos at the point of manufacture, prior to importing the goods into Australia.

To ensure that goods do not contain asbestos, commercial importers are encouraged to investigate, and where appropriate implement:

  • contractual obligations with their suppliers that specify nil asbestos content
  • sampling and testing for asbestos content prior to shipping the goods to Australia
  • regular risk assessment and quality assurance processes, that take into account:
    • what raw materials are used in the manufacture of the goods
    • where manufacturers outside Australia source their raw materials
    • identifying and subsequently minimising asbestos-risk activities at the point of manufacture.

    If Australian importers can demonstrate their own supply chain assurance programme they could avoid delays to the clearance of their goods at the point of importation.

    If we suspect that goods arriving at the border contain asbestos, the goods are detained and examined. Documentation that provides sufficient assurance must be provided. The importer could be required to arrange sampling, testing and certification by a ‘competent person’ to ensure there is no presence of asbestos. The arrangement and cost of any independent inspection, testing and storage of the goods is the responsibility of the importer/exporter in Australia in accordance with section 186 of the Customs Act 1901 (the Act).

    Testing samples for asbestos

    Where goods are sampled and tested for asbestos content, testing certification must be provided to the ABF.

    Certification of samples tested in Australia must be from an Australian testing laboratory that is accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA).

    Certification of samples tested outside Australia must be from an testing laboratory outside Australia that is accredited by a NATA equivalent authority. Details of NATA accredited laboratories in Australia and international accreditation authorities are available at the NATA website.

    Importers seeking certification from suitably accredited testing laboratories outside Australia are advised to check the following information prior to engaging a laboratory:

    • is the laboratory accredited by a NATA recognised equivalent through a Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) for the test required
    • is the laboratory’s Scope of Accreditation still valid and in date at the time of testing.

    The certification must be provided to a Collector in writing and must:

    • demonstrate the testing laboratory had a valid scope of accreditation for the testing of asbestos in bulk samples at the time the testing took place
    • demonstrate the samples tested have been drawn from the actual shipment of goods.

    Importers can also import samples of goods to Australia for testing prior to shipping. Any samples lawfully imported into Australia must be from the actual consignment of goods to be imported to Australia.

    Direct supervision and documentation of this process in the supplier country will assist to confirm the source of the samples.

    A number of NATA accredited laboratories currently hold ongoing exemptions to import samples into Australia for the purpose of analysis. If you engage such a laboratory to import on your behalf, ensure the exemption expiry date allows sufficient time for your importation.

    Information required in a testing report

    To ensure that imported goods do not contain asbestos, the testing report will need to include the following information:

    • the test method used
    • the date and origin of the sample
    • description of the sample (and sub-sample if applicable) including weight, size and colour
    • whether fibres are detected under Polarised Light Microscopy / Dispersion Staining method (PLM/DS) at the detection limit, and if so what type of fibre
    • if mineral fibres of unknown type are identified, the confirming technique used to assess asbestos content
    • name of the analyst.

    Where a laboratory outside Australia is engaged, it must be made clear that any level of asbestos detected is noted in the report.

    We will detain goods at the border and seek further assurances from importers where testing results show:

    • unknown mineral fibres present, with no further clarification
    • that the testing was not for all six asbestos types
    • the document is not for the actual batch of goods being shipped
    • where there is doubt as to the authenticity or accuracy of the document.

    Importers should discuss these matters with their customs broker or freight forwarder as appropriate.

    Applying for permission to import or export asbestos

    Samples drawn in Australia, regardless of the origin, that are intended for export and testing outside Australia, might require Ministerial permission to export depending upon the goods involved.

    For information on applying for permission to import or export asbestos and ACM, contact the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) by email at enquiries@asbestossafety.gov.au.

    If asbestos is detected

    It is an offence under the Act to import or export unauthorised asbestos. Asbestos or ACM seized as prohibited imports will be forfeited to the Crown and re-export will not be permitted.

    If unauthorised asbestos is found to have entered Australia, the importer of the goods may be subject to penalties or prosecution for offences against the Act, in addition to other available offences under State or Territory law.

    Any future shipments from suppliers outside Australia that have been identified as sending asbestos or ACM to Australia will be targeted for intervention action at the border. Previous importations from that same supplier will also be identified and referred to State and Territory WHS regulators for further investigation.

    We are a member of the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and take part in the trade of information and intelligence with other customs administrations in regard to the movement of various controlled goods worldwide.

    Penalties

    Border offences relating to asbestos attract fines of up to 1000 penalty units or three times the value of the goods, whichever is the greater. For a body corporate the same border offence attracts a higher penalty of up to five times the amount applied to an individual.

    Import and export limitations

    The import and export of asbestos or ACM is permitted under very limited circumstances.

    In summary, these circumstances are:

    • the goods are raw materials that contain naturally occurring traces of chrysotile or amphibole
    • the chrysotile, amphibole or goods are considered hazardous waste as defined in the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989
    • in the case of chrysotile asbestos, the goods are for research, analysis or display and ministerial permission is granted and confirmed in accordance with the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2011
    • the importation is from the Australian Antarctic Territory.

    A further example of authorised imports of asbestos or ACM include where all the following apply:

    • asbestos is incorporated into the structure of a ship or resources installation in excess of 150 gross tonnage
    • that ship or resources installation is being imported
    • the amphibole or chrysotile asbestos in the ship or resources installation was fixed or installed before 1 January 2005
    • the amphibole or chrysotile asbestos in the ship or resources installation will not be a risk to any person unless the amphibole or chrysotile asbestos is disturbed.

    A valid asbestos management plan should be in place for any ship or resources installation in this circumstance.

    Unauthorised removal of asbestos, in any form, from a vessel while in Australian waters, is considered an offence in accordance with Regulation 4C of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956.

    The valid written import or export permission must be produced to a Collector at the border.

    Departmental Notices

    Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders can refer to notices regarding asbestos at the Australian Customs Notices (ACNs) page.

    Reporting specific information about asbestos to Border Watch

    The Department’s Border Watch programme allows the public and industry to report information regarding suspicious border related activities. We treat all information as confidential in nature and information can be provided anonymously.

    If you have specific, detailed information in regard to an importation of asbestos or ACM, contact Border Watch.

    Asbestos Importation Review Report

    The Department engaged KGH Border Services AB to undertake an independent review of the end-to-end border processes for the asbestos border control. The Review assessed how we, as a Department, manage the monitoring, detection, intervention and enforcement of the asbestos ban in Australia, helping to ensure Australians are safe from harmful materials entering the country.

    In the interest of transparency, we are publically releasing the report in full, with some minor redactions made to protect details of our operational enforcement methods.

    The commissioning of this review demonstrates our commitment to ensuring Australia’s asbestos border controls are further strengthened and reflect best practice.

    We are implementing the recommendations as a part of our approach to continuous improvement of our border controls.

    See: Asbestos Importation Review Report (227KB PDF)

    Other government organisations

    We work closely with other Australian government authorities, including the Department of Employment, which has policy responsibility for asbestos issues.

    The Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) Rapid Response Protocol has been developed to enable government agencies to work cooperatively and efficiently across jurisdictions. The protocol can be initiated when products have been identified as containing asbestos and there are concerns that such products might or have entered the Australian market.

    For more information regarding the HWSA Rapid response protocol and specific asbestos alerts see the ASEA website.

    The following is a contact list for the relevant Australian government agencies responsible for asbestos policy and compliance issues.

    State and territory regulatory authorities

    Regulatory authorityTelephone number
    SafeWork NSW13 10 50
    WorkSafe Vic 1800 136 089
    WorkCover Qld1300 362 128
    SafeWork SA1300 365 255
    WorkSafe in the WA Dept. of Commerce  1300 307 877
    NT WorkSafe 1800 019 115
    WorkSafe Tasmania1300 366 322
    WorkSafe ACT02 6207 3000

    Commonwealth policy organisations

    Policy organisationTelephone number
    Australian Competition and Consumer Commission1300 302 502
    Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency1300 326 148
    Department of Employment1300 488 064
    Safe Work Australia1300 551 832