Recent media reports relating to the illegal import of asbestos-containing goods or materials has highlighted the need for more awareness of the risks of inadvertent import of asbestos-containing goods or materials by Australian businesses.
This fact sheet was been developed by the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) Imported Materials with Asbestos Working Group, whose membership comprises representatives from: Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, WorkSafe Australian Capital Territory, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, WorkSafe Northern Territory, SafeWork SA, WorkSafe Tasmania, Safe Work Australia, WorkSafe Victoria, WorkCover NSW, WorkSafe Western Australia.
MANAGING THE IMPORTATION OF GOODS OR MATERIALS CONTAINING ASBESTOS INTO AUSTRALIA
Persons conducting a business or undertaking need to be aware of the risk of importing goods or materials into Australia that contain asbestos.
All types of asbestos were prohibited in Australian workplaces from 31 December 2003. This ban is reflected in work health and safety (WHS) laws in all jurisdictions. The prohibition on the use of asbestos in Australia is supplemented by the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (the Regulations), which bans the importation of all types of asbestos and products containing asbestos, except under limited circumstances. This fact sheet outlines:
- how the importation of asbestos is regulated at the Australian border and the products at particular risk of containing asbestos
- what businesses importing material must do to ensure the imported products do not contain asbestos, and
- what verifications exist for Australian importers or consumers to show those imported materials do not contain asbestos
WHY ARE GOODS OR MATERIALS THAT CONTAIN ASBESTOS STILL BEING IMPORTED?
Asbestos is still widely used in some countries. Despite being a prohibited import in Australia, goods containing asbestos are still being located at the border. Certification provided to importers from overseas manufacturers that goods are asbestos-free has sometimes been proven incorrect or unreliable for the purposes of the Regulations.
Local standards in some supplier countries may classify goods ‘asbestos free’ where they meet a certain low level of asbestos content. In Australia a product found with any level of asbestos is prohibited for import or use. Importers should be aware of the varying definitions and standards applied in the country of origin and/or supply. The Australian Regulations will apply at the border.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE LAWFUL IMPORTATION OF MATERIALS CONTAINING ASBESTOS
The importation into Australia of amphibole or chrysotile asbestos is prohibited under the Regulations unless:
- the goods are raw materials that contain naturally occurring traces of amphibole or chrysotile asbestos, or
- the importation is of ‘hazardous waste’ as defined in the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989; or
- a Commonwealth Government ministerial exemption is granted to an importer, and
- for chrysotile asbestos, the goods are for research, analysis or display, or
- the importation is from the Australian Antarctic Territory (chrysotile only), or
- all of the following apply:
- the importation is of a ship or resources installation, and
- the amphibole or chrysotile asbestos in the ship or resources installation was fixed or installed before 1 January 2005, and
- 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
INTERACTION WITH WORK, HEALTH AND SAFETY LAWS
While the above exemptions apply to the importation of asbestos-containing materials into Australia, you should check with the relevant WHS regulator within your state or territory to determine whether use under the above circumstances is permitted. For example, while a ship or resource installation with asbestos fixed or installed between 1 January 2004 and 1 January 2005 is permitted to be imported into Australia (where the asbestos will not be a risk unless disturbed), the ship cannot be supplied, stored, transported or used in Victoria, under Victorian occupational, health and safety legislation. The same applies to asbestos imported from the Australian Antarctic Territory.
PRODUCT EXAMPLES AT RISK OF CONTAINING ASBESTOS
Building materials – Cement compound board, compressed asbestos sheeting (for example mill board), corrugated sheets, bitumen products used for damp-proofing, heat resistant sealing and caulking compounds, heating equipment, lagging, switchgear with washers, electrical panel partitioning, electrical cloths and tape.
Motor vehicles/bikes and parts – Asbestos can be manufactured into motor vehicles/bikes including electric motor vehicles. Parts at risk include gaskets, seals and friction materials (brake linings or blocks, clutch linings).
Mining/Heavy industry equipment – Items at risk include: pre-assembled switch rooms, flash vessels, effluent treatment equipment, various gaskets, joining material in flues, washers and friction materials.
Ships and Resources Installations in excess of 150 GROSS TONNAGE – Resources installations, ships, barges and tugs may incorporate risk applications/construction including electrical panel partitioning, insulation for bulkheads, pipes & cables and manhole gaskets.
Trains / Locomotives – Insulation applications around the exhaust & muffler systems as well as pipe systems.
ENSURING IMPORTED MATERIALS DO NOT CONTAIN ASBESTOS
The onus is on the importer to ensure they do not import asbestos into Australia. Importers can:
- Request certification from the manufacturer that the goods are asbestos-free
- Obtain evidence from the overseas supplier, e.g. product testing results that the product/material does not contain asbestos
- Arrange a competent person to sample the goods/materials for testing by a laboratory prior to shipping. It is recommended that a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited laboratory, accredited for the relevant test method (AS 4964 Method for the Qualitative identification of asbestos in bulk samples), or internationally equivalent laboratories be used
- Note that the cost of any tests or verification measures undertaken will be borne by the importer
NATA accredited laboratories in Australia and internationally accredited laboratories, are listed at the NATA website: http://www.nata.com.au/nata/.
To arrange testing by a NATA accredited laboratory, samples of goods/materials may need to be imported into Australia. A ministerial exemption from the Regulations needs to be obtained prior to any import of samples.
A number of NATA accredited laboratories currently hold ongoing exemptions to import samples of asbestos into Australia for the purpose of analysis. An importer may engage their services to import samples for the purpose of analysis.
Importers may also choose to apply to the Australian Government Minister for an exemption to import asbestos for the purpose of analysis. For application information contact the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency at email: email@example.com
IF YOU HAVE INADVERTENTLY IMPORTED GOODS OR MATERIAL CONTAINING ASBESTOS
Cease using the product and do not supply the product to others. Contact the relevant WHS regulator in your state/territory. A list of all WHS authorities is listed at: http://asbestossafety.gov.au/organisation-links
WHS legislation in all states and territories prohibits work involving asbestos including the supply, transport, use, or handling of asbestos unless an exception applies; for example, the removal or transport of asbestos in accordance with regulatory requirements of that state or territory.
WHAT EVIDENCE YOU CAN REASONABLY EXPECT FROM A SUPPLIER OF GOODS OR MATERIALS
If you receive imported goods or materials from a supplier within Australia, you can ask the importers/suppliers for evidence they are asbestos free, for example:
- an analysis certificate from an Australian NATA accredited laboratory accredited for the relevant test method (AS 4964 Method for the Qualitative identification of asbestos in bulk samples), or internationally equivalent laboratories (listed at the NATA website: http://www.nata.com.au/nata/ ) certifying the product is asbestos-free.