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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.

To support the domestic ban:

For the purpose of the border regulations, for definitions of asbestos and ACM please refer to the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 (Cth).

Australia is one of the few countries that have a ban on asbestos. Most countries allow low amounts or particular types of asbestos (for example, certain types of asbestos such as chrysotile can be used in some countries). Goods manufactured outside Australia might be labelled “asbestos free” and still contain a low amount or certain types of asbestos. Such goods will not be permitted for import into Australia, except in very limited circumstances.

What types of asbestos are prohibited?

The importation and exportation of fibrous forms of asbestos is prohibited. This includes mineral silicate from the:

  • Serpentine Group
    • chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos)
  • Amphibole Group
    • actinolite asbestos
    • amosite asbestos (brown and grey asbestos)
    • anthophyllite asbestos
    • crocidolite (blue asbestos)
    • tremolite asbestos

What is Asbestos Containing Material?

ACM is 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 than non-friable asbestos 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 damaged or degraded, non-friable asbestos 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 is not properly maintained or carefully removed.

Goods that might contain asbestos

Asbestos has been used in a wide number of products due to its flexibility, tensile strength, insulation, chemical inertness and affordability and is still used outside Australia in many applications.

The following 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
  • Industrial talc
  • 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

This list is non-exhaustive and subject to change. It should be used as a guide only.

The Australian Border Force (ABF) targets goods considered to have a high risk of containing asbestos. Any unauthorised goods found to contain asbestos will be seized and the importer may face penalties and/or prosecution.

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.

Importers should be aware of the increased risk of goods containing asbestos when sourced from countries that have asbestos producing industries. Goods which are manufactured in the same factory that produce asbestos containing goods are considered high risk due to possible cross contamination.

Importers should not assume that goods labelled “asbestos free” are in fact free of asbestos or that testing of goods undertaken overseas certified “asbestos free” meet Australia’s border requirements. Some countries can lawfully label or test goods, declaring them asbestos free, if they are below a certain threshold.

To ensure that goods which are manufactured overseas do not contain asbestos, importers should enquire to overseas suppliers about the use of asbestos at any point in the supply chain. Importers are also 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 the ABF suspects that goods arriving at the border contain asbestos, the goods are detained and examined. Documentation that provides sufficient assurance must be provided. The importer may be required to arrange 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). 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.

    Testing for asbestos

    Where goods are sampled and tested for asbestos content, testing certification (also called a laboratory testing report) must be provided to the ABF. Goods being imported can be tested prior to the importation by a laboratory in Australia or overseas.

    Importers, who wish to have their goods tested in Australia, prior to importation, must first seek permission from the Minister of Employment to import sample for analysis purposes, through the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA). Once the permission has been granted, importers must then organise sampling and testing. The samples must be from the actual shipment to be imported. The testing must be undertaken by an Australian testing laboratory that is accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA). Details of NATA accredited laboratories in Australia are available at: National Association Testing Authorities, Australia.

    Where the testing is carried out overseas, prior to shipping to Australia, certification must be from an overseas testing laboratory accredited by the NATA equivalent testing authority in that overseas economy. The local testing authority must be a signatory to a Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) with NATA.

    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.

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

    Information on overseas testing can be found at:

    • the Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC) MRA, a regional arrangement with participation by upwards of 20 economies including all of Australia’s major trading partners in the Asia Pacific region at: APLAC
    • the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) MRA, a global arrangement covering all regions at: ILAC.

    Information required in a testing report

    The testing report must contain adequate information to be able to demonstrate assurance at the border. This includes:

    • 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. If the ABF suspects that imported goods contain asbestos, these goods will be held at the border for further testing.

    Where a laboratory in Australia is engaged, the ABF requires testing by a NATA accredited laboratory to certify that the goods do not contain asbestos.

    The ABF will seek further assurances from importers where testing results show:

    • unknown mineral fibres present, with no further clarification
    • 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.

    For further information on testing for asbestos, refer to the following industry user guides, available on NATA website.

    • Industry User Guide 7 - Working with NATA Accredited Asbestos Facilities
    • Industry User Guide 7.1 - Working with NATA Accredited Asbestos Facilities for Import/Export.

    What if asbestos is detected?

    If asbestos is detected in goods being imported, the goods are seized as a prohibited import, and will be forfeited to the Crown for disposal. Re-export is not permitted.

    Shipments from overseas suppliers who have been identified as sending asbestos or ACM to Australia will be targeted for intervention action at the border. Goods that have previously been imported from these suppliers will also be identified and referred to state and territory WHS regulators for further investigation.

    As a member of the World Customs Organisation (WCO), we share information and intelligence with other customs administrations in regard to the movement of controlled goods worldwide.

    Penalties

    Importers of the goods that contain asbestos may be subject to penalties or prosecution.

    Border offences relating to asbestos attract fines of up to $180,000 or three times the value of the goods, whichever is the greater, in accordance with the Customs Act 1901 (Cth). For a body corporate the same border offence attracts a higher penalty of up to $900,000 or five times the amount applied to an individual, whichever is greater, in accordance with the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).

    Import and export exceptions, exemptions and permissions

    The import and export of asbestos or ACM is allowed if a permission or exemption has been granted under very limited circumstances, or if an exception applies.

    Exceptions

    Importing or exporting asbestos to and from Australia is permitted if one of the following applies:

    • imports and exports of goods that are raw materials that contain naturally occurring traces of amphibole asbestos or chrysotile; or
    • imports and exports of goods containing asbestos considered hazardous waste as defined in section 4 of the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989; or
    • imports of chrysotile or the goods containing chrysotile from the Australian Antarctic Territory, not applicable for exports; or
    • exports of certain goods containing asbestos that are incorporated into other goods in a way that does not constitute a risk to users until the asbestos in the goods is disturbed (assurance must be provided at the border), not applicable for imports.

    Importing amphibole asbestos or chrysotile to Australia is permitted if all of the following apply:

    • the importation is of a ship or resources installation that is in excess of 150 gross tonnage, as shown by the International Tonnage Certificate (1969); and
    • the amphibole asbestos or chrysotile in the ship or resources installation was fixed or installed before 1 January 2005; and
    • the amphibole asbestos or chrysotile in the ship or resources installation will not be a risk to any person unless the amphibole asbestos or chrysotile 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.

    Exemptions

    Importation of chrysotile or goods that contain chrysotile and exportation of  all types of fibrous asbestos or goods that contain fibrous asbestos are exempt from the prohibition if:

    • an authority of a State or Territory confirms in writing that the importation of such goods is in accordance with the State or Territory work health and safety laws
    • the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission confirms in writing that an exemption has been granted in accordance with the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011.

    The confirmation must state that the chrysotile or goods are for research, analysis or display, and be provided to a Collector at the border.

    Permission

    Permission to import or export amphibole asbestos or chrysotile or goods containing fibrous asbestos can be granted by the Minister administering the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, currently the Minister for Employment. A copy of the permission must then be provided to a Collector at the border.

    Import permission for chrysotile can only be granted if the Minister is satisfied that the goods are for research, analysis or display. Export permission might also be required for samples that potentially contain asbestos to be tested outside Australia.

    A number of NATA accredited laboratories currently hold ongoing permissions 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.

    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 you have any doubt whether the goods you are importing or exporting are prohibited or subject to an exception, exemption or permission contact us to make an enquiry.

    DIBP Publications

    DIBP Notices

    Notices for brokers and freight forwarders regarding asbestos can be found on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) Notices page.

    Recent notices:

    DIBP Factsheet

    Importers, traders and customs brokers can refer to the ABF's factsheet on asbestos:  Managing the risk of asbestos at the border (52KB PDF).

    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)

    Reporting asbestos to Border Watch

    If you have specific, detailed information in regard to an importation or exportation of asbestos or ACM, contact Border Watch on 1800 009 623 or on +61 2 6246 1325 if you are overseas. We treat all information as confidential in nature and information can be provided anonymously.

    Visit Border Watch webpage for further information.

    Other government organisations managing asbestos

    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 WA1300 307 877
    NT WorkSafe 1800 019 115
    WorkSafe Tasmania1300 366 322
    WorkSafe ACT02 6207 3000

    Commonwealth organisations

    OrganisationsTelephone 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