About asbestos

A close up of a corrugated asbestos cement fence with asbestos cement capping
Asbestos Cement Fence

The role of the Department of Health is to ensure the proper management of potential public health risks from exposure to asbestos. Local Government authorised officers are the first contact for community concerns.

Other government agencies have a role in controlling asbestos in a range of situations; For example:

The Department of Health has produced the asbestos regulators brochure (PDF 901KB) that provides a more detailed list of agencies with their roles and contact details to find out who to call for a particular issue.

Public health legislation

The Department of Health administers the Health (Asbestos) Regulations 1992 (HAR) (external site) which are enforced by local government enforcement agencies and authorised officers.

It is important that you are aware of the requirements of the regulations before working with asbestos.

Draft legislation including a Draft Code of Practice have been prepared but finalisation and promulgation awaits a further stage of the implementation of the Public Health Act 2016.

As part of the Department of Health review a Survey of local government and other regulators experience with asbestos incidents in the public sector (PDF 496KB) was completed.

Residential asbestos products

Asbestos was included in many common products used in homes built before 1990. These products containing asbestos can become a public health risk if they are damaged or deteriorate in a way that releases the asbestos fibres. It is important that these products can be identified in the home so that appropriate precautions can be taken to reduce exposure risks.

Residents need to:

  • Find out if they have any asbestos containing products in their home
  • Know the precautions required to work safely with asbestos

The Department of Health has released the following publications to assist in the identification and management of asbestos products.

The national enHealth Council has published guidance for householders:

Health risks

In most cases the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease from exposure to asbestos products in the community is very low. However, in situations where asbestos fibres can be released it is important to take additional safety precautions. The attached publication provides further explanation as to what are the risks from exposure to asbestos in the situations described above:

Fire damaged asbestos and other natural disasters

Asbestos in structures may be disturbed or damaged by fire or natural disasters such as floods and cyclones. The resulting public risks and their management may differ from more common means of asbestos contamination. Although general asbestos regulatory guidance should still apply where practical, it may be necessary to vary management procedures due to the emergency nature of some of these unusual events.

The related link on fire damaged asbestos and the following documents provide some of this specialised guidance in regard to asbestos.

Fire damaged asbestos

Cyclone and flooding risks

High pressure cleaning of asbestos roofs

High pressure cleaning of asbestos cement roofs is a highly contaminating activity that is prohibited under the Health (Asbestos) Regulations 1992. These offences, usually undertaken by ill-informed property owners or roof painting contractors, can cause significant contamination to multiple properties requiring specialised remediation, with clean-up costs often reaching tens of thousands of dollars.  EHOs, as first responders to these incidents, can ensure that the offender instigates a full remediation of all affected properties in a timely manner. 

The written notice under Regulation 8 of the Health (Asbestos) Regulations 1992 can be served to either the property owner or occupier, or the person handling material containing asbestos where the offender is not the owner/occupier. The written notice can include instructions to:

  • engage appropriately qualified and experienced personnel, in a timely manner
  • first delineate, then fully remediate, and finally validate the clean-up of all contaminated areas (i.e. soils, plants, structures, walls, paving, etc)
  • provide relevant records and reports, including asbestos control removal plan, sampling and validation reports and disposal receipts.

A key factor in ensuring a successful remediation is ensuring that the area of impact is appropriately delineated, which will often require input from an experienced occupational hygienist or environmental consultant.  The delineation of the remediation area should extend beyond the visible extent of the contamination to ensure effective remediation of fine material and avoid the need for repeated clean-up attempts.  The remedial works should be undertaken by an unrestricted asbestos removalist, given the friable nature of the material. 

Prompt remediation should be prioritised with intermediate temporary controls in place where clean up cannot begin immediately, for example; a requirement to keep the area damp, through gentle misting, is acceptable in the short term. 

The guidance note Managing contamination from pressure cleaning of asbestos cement roofs (PDF 500KB) provides detailed guidance on the remediation considerations in response to high-pressure asbestos-cement roof cleans and can inform the content of written notices. 

A new approach to aged asbestos cement roofs

To prevent future incidents, Local Government Authorities can also play a role in educating property owners of their responsibilities in managing and maintaining asbestos structures, and in particular asbestos roofs which can be very brittle and degraded after years of exposure to sun, wind and rain/hail.  The current position of the Department of Health is to encourage early and safe removal of asbestos cement roofs.

Local Government can include information on homeowner responsibilities in their communications such as:

  • All asbestos structures are ageing and reaching the end of their useful life
  • Complete removal is strongly preferred over maintenance and repair of ageing asbestos structures
  • Walking on asbestos cement roofs represents a serious fall risk as aged sheeting is brittle
  • Improper cleaning and maintenance of roofs can increase exposure to airborne fibres
  • Conducting anything beyond minor repairs is a breach of the Health (Asbestos) Regulations 1992
  • Clean-up costs after asbestos contamination of the surrounding environment from asbestos cement roofs damaged by high-pressure cleaning, fire and storm damage usually amounts to costs in the tens of thousands of dollars and contamination can spread over multiple neighbouring properties
  • It is safer (and usually much less expensive) to remove and replace roofs that are still relatively intact
  • Only where an asbestos structure has been kept well maintained and sealed/painted can it be safely maintained (e.g. cleaned, resealed/repainted) without generating asbestos-fibre release.

The Chemical Hazards Team will be conducting a review of  guidance information on asbestos-cement roofs during the second half of 2021 and would welcome any feedback from EHOs on requests for further guidance, gaps you would like addressed, and encourages the sharing of case studies on asbestos-cement.  Comments/queries can be sent to DoH.ChemicalHazards@health.wa.gov.au

Last reviewed: 04-09-2023
Produced by

Environmental Health Directorate

For further information contact your local government or the Environmental Health Directorate