Tips for working safely in a home that may contain loose-fill asbestos
Disturbing loose-fill asbestos directly and entering building cavities
No renovation, demolition or building work can be started on these properties without asbestos removal being carried out by a licensed asbestos removalist.
Electricians, plumbers, pest control and communication workers should not do any work which penetrates walls, ceilings, or floors as this may disturb friable loose-fill asbestos.
If any of this work is required, the homeowner or building contractor should engage a competent person, such as a licensed asbestos assessor, to assess the risks and provide expert advice.
Risk minimisation involves many mandatory requirements, including:
- ensuring only licensed competent people carry out the work
- complying with the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 and the How to safely remove asbestos code of practice
- limiting exposure time
- using appropriate friable asbestos respiratory protection and personal protective equipment
Removing household items from sub-floor areas or the roof space is not recommended. If removal from these areas must occur, a Class A licensed asbestos removalist must be engaged to undertake the goods retrieval safely and ensure exposure of workers and residents is minimised.
Incidental disturbance of loose-fill asbestos insulation
Maintenance activities must be limited to work that does not involve disturbance of friable asbestos in sub-floor, roof space or wall cavities. Tradespeople are not permitted to work in a home that contains loose-fill asbestos unless they are suitably trained.
If any work is to be done in a living area of a home that has been found by a licensed asbestos assessor to contain loose-fill asbestos fibres, risks can be minimised by:
- avoiding dusty areas
- suppressing any dust by working 'damp'
- limiting the amount of time spent working in dusty areas
- wearing a P2 or P3 respirator
Work in obviously dusty storage areas, for example, furniture removal/packing, should only be done with respiratory protection as a precaution. If you use a respirator you must make sure it fits correctly. Beards or facial hair will interfere with the seal so you must be clean shaven.
For all homes that have a minor contamination, risks can be minimised by:
- minimising the creation of dust
- suppressing any dust by working 'damp'
- limiting the amount of time spent working in the home
All carpet cleaning or vacuuming should be done by steam or wet cleaning. Hard floors should be damp cleaned, not brushed. Any worker who is concerned may decide to wear a properly fitted half face P2 respirator as a precaution.
Short visits to affected homes
Any intermittent visits to an affected home poses a very low risk where disturbance of loose-fill asbestos fibres is likely to be minimal and exposure is likely to be low.
If any worker is still concerned, they may decide to wear a P2 disposable respirator. It is important to discuss this with the client first, so as not to raise undue concern.
Be sure to explain that employers have a legal obligation to minimise any potential risks to workers. This does not mean that those living in, or visiting, the home need to take the same precautions, for example, visitors to the home would not be expected to wear a disposable respirator.
Workers visiting an affected home that does not have an asbestos assessment report, or where the homeowner cannot locate their asbestos assessment report, may, as a precaution, wear a P2 disposable respirator.
Work outdoors which does not involve any disturbance of loose-fill asbestos fibres presents negligible risk.
This information is general and provides guidance to workers and employers on how to manage potential risks of asbestos exposure to loose-fill insulation in affected homes.
It does not purport to be a comprehensive safety guide or apply individually to a particular affected home. It does not apply to asbestos removal or demolition of these homes. It is not legal advice and should not be relied or acted upon as if it were.
Employers and any other persons reading this document must comply with the applicable legislation.
Frequently asked questions
What is loose-fill asbestos insulation?
Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring mineral fibres that were used in a wide range of industrial and domestic products due to their strength, insulating features and resistance to fire.
Loose-fill asbestos insulation is raw asbestos that has been crushed into a fine state and installed in ceiling spaces. During the 1960s and 1970s loose-fill asbestos insulation was installed in some residential and commercial premises in Australia. One company, which traded in the Australian Capital Territory as Mr Fluffy, was the main installer of loose-fill asbestos insulation.
What is the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease?
Visit the who is at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases page on The Department of Health website.
How many homes in NSW have been affected?
It is not known how many properties in NSW have this type of insulation. Visit the property testing results page for information on the number of registrations, tests undertaken and results to date.
Where can loose-fill asbestos insulation be found in homes?
Loose-fill asbestos insulation was primarily installed in the roof space of residential properties. The bulk of the material will be in the roof space, if no removal has been undertaken. There is also evidence that loose-fill asbestos insulation has moved into wall cavities and sub-floor areas. Any openings including cracks and vents can also cause asbestos fibres to move into living spaces, such as lounge rooms, bedrooms, and kitchen areas.
How can I check whether a home has been tested and found to contain loose-fill asbestos insulation?
The NSW Government is required under the Home Building Act 1989 to maintain a register of residential properties that contain loose-fill asbestos insulation - the Loose-fill Asbestos Insulation Register.
The register is available on the NSW Fair Trading website and each property can be searched for by its street address.
Under the Home Building Act 1989, a property affected by loose-fill asbestos insulation must display a warning sign at its main switchboard once it has been added to the register.
What other materials can look like loose-fill asbestos insulation?
There are many other items that have the appearance of loose-fill asbestos insulation. In some cases in the roof space, loose-fill asbestos insulation has also been located underneath synthetic mineral fibre insulation (batts).
Therefore, care needs to be taken to ensure the safety of people accessing the roof space in homes where loose-fill asbestos insulation might be present.
Examples of materials that might look like loose-fill asbestos insulation include:
- synthetic mineral fibre (batts)
- cellulose insulation
My workers might be working in homes that contain loose-fill asbestos insulation. What are my responsibilities?
Business owners and managers who employ any staff who may be involved in asbestos-related work, such as electrical, pest control, plumbing or air conditioning, must ensure these workers are suitably trained in the:
- identification and safe handling of asbestos and asbestos containing material
- suitable control measures for working with asbestos and asbestos containing material
No worker should enter the sub-floor, wall cavities or roof space of a home affected by loose-fill asbestos insulation unless they are a Class A licensed asbestos removalist or a licensed asbestos assessor.
Other workers should only enter these areas under the direct supervision of a Class A licensed asbestos removalist and comply with their instructions (i.e. PPE & decontamination)
If there is a requirement to access roof spaces, wall cavities or sub-floor areas to undertake work in a home where you suspect loose-fill asbestos insulation might be present, employers should:
- ask the home owner/occupier if the property contains loose-fill asbestos insulation
- ask the home owner/occupier if testing has been undertaken and if so, review the report
- use personal protective equipment for example, a P2 disposable respirator, prior to entering the area if you are uncertain about the presence of loose-fill asbestos
Upon entering any roof spaces, wall cavities or sub-floor areas in a property that appears to contain loose-fill asbestos insulation, the worker should:
- immediately withdraw from the area
- notify the home owner/occupier
- ask their manager/supervisor to contact the home owner to arrange for the material to be tested by a competent person such as a licensed asbestos assessor
If the result confirms the presence of loose-fill asbestos insulation, the homeowner can contact us to inquire about potential assistance available which will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Contact Service NSW on 13 77 88 or email AsbestosTaskforce@finance.nsw.gov.au