Asbestos

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An Australia-wide ban on the use of all types of asbestos took effect on 31 December 2003. Work Health and Safety (WHS) and environment laws in all states and territories prohibit the unauthorised supply, transport, use (including manufacturing), or handling of asbestos.

To support the domestic ban:

Australia is one of the few countries in the Asia/Pacific region that has a comprehensive ban on all six types of asbestos. In many countries, despite the known threat to human health, local standards allow low levels of particular types of asbestos to be used for manufacturing. Goods manufactured outside Australia might be labelled "asbestos free" and still contain low levels of asbestos. Such goods will not be permitted for import into Australia, except in very limited circumstances.

The border control for asbestos is not enforced with consideration of the level of risk to the end-user of the goods. Importers must not base their judgement on a perceived low risk, as any risk of asbestos content must be addressed before shipment to Australia.

Video, Stopping Asbestos at the border

Watch a short video news release that talks about the role of the Australian Border Force (ABF) in stopping asbestos at the border, importer obligations and the potential consequences for non-compliance. 

What types of asbestos are prohibited?

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

  • 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 friable asbestos and non-friable asbestos?

Friable asbestos is a 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 goods containing asbestos are 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 a risk for containing asbestos and goods containing abestos:

  • 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
  • Friction materials for, or within, internal combustion and electric motor vehicles (for example, clutch linings, brake pads and shoes and gaskets)
  • Furnaces
  • Gas masks
  • 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
  • Nut Plug products used for drilling fluids
  • Pipe spools
  • Portable acetylene cylinders
  • Products containing certain types of talc
  • Raw materials from mining activities
  • Sheet vinyl backing
  • Sheeting
  • Textured paints or coatings
  • Tiles
  • Yarn and thread, cords and string, whether or not plaited

Countries from which goods containing asbestos have been detected

  • China
  • Germany
  • Indonesia
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Taiwan
  • The Netherlands
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America
  • Vietnam

Note: the list represents the country of shipment, not necessarily the country of manufacture. Importers must be aware of their supply chain including the origin and manufacturing process of parts and components, particularly those at risk of containing asbestos.

The above lists are non-exhaustive and subject to change. They are listed in alphabetical order and should be used as a guide only.

The ABF targets goods considered to have a 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 goods that contain asbestos. Definitive enquiries should be made with suppliers outside Australia about any use of asbestos at the point of manufacture, before 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 that are manufactured in the same factory that produce asbestos containing goods are considered a 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 question their 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 before 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. Documents 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 line with section 186 of the Customs Act 1901 (the Act). If Australian importers can demonstrate their own supply chain assurance program they could avoid delays to the clearance of their goods at the point of importation.

Asbestos in imported motor vehicles

As with any other goods, it is the responsibility of the importer to ensure the vehicle they are importing does not contain asbestos. The risk of parts and components containing asbestos within a vehicle might still be present even when the country of origin has an asbestos ban in place. An importer must have extensive knowledge of the vehicle they intend to import, to prevent the importation of asbestos.

For more information, refer to the attached fact sheet: Managing the risk of asbestos when importing a motor vehicle.

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 before the importation by a laboratory in Australia or overseas.

Importers, who wish to have their goods tested in Australia, before importation, must first be granted import permission by the Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation to import samples for analysis purposes. Samples for testing in Australia must be treated and handled as if they contain asbestos, and therefore must have import permission, regardless of any anticipated testing outcome. Further information regarding Ministerial import permission is in the Permissions section below.

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 the NATA website.

When the testing is carried out overseas, before shipping to Australia, certification must be from an overseas testing laboratory accredited by the NATA equivalent testing authority in that overseas country. The local testing authority must be a signatory to a Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) with NATA. Testing carried out overseas should be undertaken at, or equivalent to, Australian standards.

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

  • is the laboratory accredited by a NATA recognised equivalent through a 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 documents  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's website.
  • the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) MRA, a global arrangement covering all regions at ILAC's website.

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 more information on testing for asbestos, refer to the following industry user guides, available on NATA's 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 goods containing asbestos into 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 goods that contain asbestos may be subject to penalties or prosecution.

Border offences relating to asbestos can attract fines for individuals up to AUD210,000 or three times the value of the goods (if the court can determine the value of the goods), whichever is the greater, under the Customs Act 1901 (Cth).

Where a body corporate is convicted of an offence, relating to asbestos, against a law of the Commonwealth, the court may impose a fine up to AUD1,050,000 or 15 times the value of the goods (if the court can determine the value of the goods), whichever is the greater, under the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).

Import and export exceptions, exemptions and permissions

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

Exceptions

Importing or exporting asbestos into 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 into 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 line 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 line with the State or Territory WHS laws.

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

Note: State and Territory WHS authorities retain the policy right of refusal to issue an exemption to Regulation 4C.

Permissions

The Minister responsible for administering the Work, Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth), currently the Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation (the WHS Minister), may grant permission to import asbestos, or goods containing asbestos, in limited circumstances. While the Customs (Prohibited Import) Regulations 1956 (the PI Regulations) are administered by the Department of Home Affairs, the WHS Minister’s portfolio is responsible for developing Australian Government policy that provides the basis of the national ban for asbestos. This informs the border control, which the ABF enforces.

Applications for import permission will be considered on a case by case basis against the criteria set out in the PI Regulations. The WHS Minister has discretion to grant permission to import goods that contain asbestos. Importers are required to satisfy the WHS Minister’s discretion, which could include consideration of health and safety risks and safeguards that could be put in place if permission was granted. Export permission is also required for certain goods leaving Australia, including samples that potentially contain asbestos to be tested outside Australia.

Several 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 permission expiry date allows sufficient time for your importation.

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) is responsible for administering the import and export permission process for the WHS Minister. To apply for import permission, applications should address the criteria located on the ASEA website and be made in writing to the WHS Minister. More information, including the WHS Minister’s contact details for import permission applications, is located at the ASEA website.

The act of applying for import or export permission is not a guarantee that it will be granted. Owners must not ship their goods until they have received the permission in writing. A copy of the permission must be produced to the ABF at the border.

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.

Departmental publications

Notices

Notices for brokers and freight forwarders regarding asbestos can be found on the Notices page.

Recent notices:

ABF factsheet

Importers, traders and customs brokers can refer to the ABF's factsheet on asbestos: Managing the risk of asbestos at the border (361KB PDF).

Asbestos Importation Review Report

In 2016, KGH Border Services AB was engaged 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 border control in Australia, helping to ensure Australians are safe from harmful materials entering the country.

In the interest of transparency, we have publically released 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 goods containing asbestos, contact Border Watch. We treat all information as confidential in nature and information can be provided anonymously.

Other government organisations managing asbestos

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 other government agencies in Australia that are responsible for asbestos policy and compliance issues.

State and territory regulatory authorities

Regulatory authorityPhone number
SafeWork NSW13 10 50
WorkSafe Victoria1800 136 089
Work Health and Safety Queensland1300 362 128
SafeWork SA1300 365 255
WorkSafe WA1300 307 877
NT WorkSafe 1800 019 115
WorkSafe Tasmania1300 366 322
WorkSafe ACT02 6207 3000

Australian Government organisations

OrganisationsPhone number
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission1300 302 502
Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency1300 326 148
Department of Jobs and Small Business1300 488 064
Safe Work Australia