Our Complete Guide to Hazardous Materials

The identification and management of Hazardous Materials is an important duty for property owners, managers and legally recognised duty holders as part of their legal responsibilities in relation to safety and occupational health.  

EDP are leading experts in Hazardous Material management and work with clients to identify and manage Hazardous Materials across land, properties and assets.

Here we explain what Hazardous Materials are, how they affect us and share some of the most common questions we encounter regarding Hazmat.

What are Hazardous Materials?

In this context, Hazardous Materials (often said as Hazmat) refers to a range of hazardous building materials used commonly in the past.

Throughout the 20th century, the use of asbestos and hazardous building materials such as Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), lead-based paints, Synthetic Mineral Fibres (SMF) and Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) during the construction of buildings in Australia was widespread. 

However, the use of these materials was eventually prohibited as the increase in awareness of the risks to health and the environment were more widely accepted. The legacy of hazardous materials used within many commercial, industrial, Government and residential properties continues across Australia. 

EDP can assist our clients in developing a wide range of management systems and risk mitigation strategies to meet compliance requirements. Hazardous Materials consultants assist clients with identification and management and solutions to complex problems involving Hazardous Materials at their site.

Why do we have to manage Hazardous Materials?

The management of asbestos-containing products and hazardous building materials (collectively Hazmat) in workplaces is widely legislated within both Work, Health and Safety legislation and Environmental legislation across Australia. An organisations ability to follow legislative requirements is the basis of managing their asbestos and hazardous material management obligations as a duty holder. 

Asbestos and hazardous materials can be a very provocative issue and as such, appropriate management of the risks associated with them are essential for organisations.

Duty holders including a ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU), property owners/managers and/or building occupiers are required to ensure that risks associated with asbestos or hazardous building materials are effectively controlled to eliminate exposure to workers and anyone entering the workplace.

EDP offers clients a wealth of experience and expertise when providing a range of consultancy services. Partnering with clients, EDP assists in the development of a range of tailored risk mitigating systems and customised control strategies to meet legislative compliance requirements, while providing effective bespoke solutions to manage asbestos and hazardous materials risk concerns within the workplace.

EDP has the knowledge and capacity to undertake all aspects of asbestos and Hazardous Building material consultancy services. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Asbestos and hazardous building materials surveys and registers;

  • Asbestos and hazardous materials risk assessments and management plans;

  • Preparation of technical specification;

  • Asbestos removal project supervision;

  • Review of Asbestos removal Control Plan; 

  • Asbestos clearance inspections;

  • Asbestos fibre air monitoring;

  • Customised asbestos awareness & management training; and

  • Employee and community hazardous material briefing sessions.

What are the different types of hazardous materials?

Hazardous building materials include (but are not limited to):

Asbestos and Asbestos Contaminated Dust

From the 1930’s through to the 1980’s, asbestos was a widely used building material in Australia. The health impacts of inhalation of asbestos fibres which result in lung conditions are absolutely devastating. To cause a health risk, asbestos fibres must not only be released into the air, but must also be of a sufficiently small size and be breathed in sufficient quantities to cause a risk to human health.

Asbestos became known as the wonder material and its use was eventually prohibited on 31st December 2003 as the increase in awareness and as the risks to human health became clear.

The assessment and management of asbestos and asbestos containing materials via surveys, risk assessments, preparation of site-specific Asbestos Registers, periodical inspections and asbestos management plans all form part of the legislative requirements.

Identification of these materials is not simple and visual observation is not enough. 

New style building materials can look remarkably similar to asbestos containing materials that have been used in the past. These materials need to be inspected, assessed, and sampled by a trained, certified and (in almost all states) licensed asbestos inspector.

Samples collected by the inspectors are analysed by an accredited laboratory. 

Determining the best approach in managing or remediating asbestos-containing material is best handled by trained asbestos professionals.

Asbestos containing dust is usually present where asbestos containing building materials were once installed or currently form part of the building fabric. Asbestos containing dust can accumulate over time from weathering and deterioration or where the product has been impacted or directly disturbed.

Synthetic Mineral Fibre (SMF)

Synthetic mineral fibre (SMF) is a generic term used to collectively describe a number of amorphous (non-crystalline) fibrous materials including glass fibre, mineral wool, and refractory ceramic fibre.

SMF has been used for many decades. The major application of SMF materials is in thermal and acoustic insulation and as a reinforcing agent. In some specialised instances, these materials have been used as a replacement for asbestos, especially where high temperature insulation properties are required.

Although SMF fibres can look like asbestos to the eye, SMFs cause much milder health issues including skin irritation and upper respiratory tract irritation.

Since the early 21st Century, all glass and rockwool insulation products manufactured in Australia have been bio-soluble, allowing the product to dissolve in bodily fluids and be quickly cleared from the lungs. Despite this, it should be remembered that workers can still be exposed to SMF made of lower quality imported products.

SMF can be classified into three groups:

Glasswool: Manufactured by melting glass into a fibrous ’wool’, used as thermal and acoustic insulation in the manufacturing and construction industry. It does not include fibreglass used in boatbuilding, surfboards and other industrial applications because they contain catalysts and resins which require different work practices.

Rockwool: Manufactured by melting volcanic rock (usually basalt) into a fibrous ’wool’, also known as Slagwool and used as thermal and acoustic insulation in the manufacturing and construction industry.

Refractory ceramic fibres (RCF): Made from kaolin (a naturally occurring alumino-silicate clay or a synthetic mix of alumina) used as high temperature and high performance thermal insulation, e.g. in furnaces, kilns and other industrial heaters such as in the automotive, marine, petrochemical, steel, aluminium, ceramic, glass, and construction industries.

Throughout the 1990s, further extensive medical and scientific research was conducted and then reviewed by the IARC in 2001. As a result of this review, Glasswool was reclassified down to 'Category 3 - not classifiable as carcinogenic to humans’. Rockwool was also reclassified down to 'Category 3 - not classifiable as carcinogenic to humans’, but

RCF remains classified as ‘Category 2B - possibly carcinogenic to humans' and therefore, a hazardous substance.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) is the common name for a group of chlorinated organic chemicals that contain many individual compounds with varying levels of toxicity. 

Being widely used between 1930’s to the 1970’s due to their insulating and thermal stability properties, PCBs have been widely used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment.

Health hazards which may result from prolonged exposure to PCBs include:

  • Liver damage (indicated by jaundice)

  • Respiratory disorders

  • Chloracne (a severe skin rash)

  • Eczema and skin discolouration

  • Irritation of the eyes and skin

  • Thyroid gland disorders

  • Muscle and joint pain, headache, nausea, loss of appetite and abdominal pain

  • Possible reproductive problems in humans (pregnant women must avoid PCB-polluted areas)

Lead containing paints & lead containing dust

High levels of lead carbonate were used in almost all kinds of house paint in Australia up until the 1970s, when it began to be government regulated. These paints may not be visually identifiable as many would have since been covered by more recently applied non-lead-based paint.

Lead paint and associated dust can pose a health risk when the paint deteriorates in condition and starts to peel/chip from the wall or become powdery. Once disturbed, paint flakes and associated dust can re-settle in the carpets, floors and even soil for decades. When sanding or buffing of lead-based paint large amounts of lead dust is produced which generally requires control measures to be implemented.

The disturbed paint has the potential to contribute to lead poisoning in humans.

Lead poisoning can cause kidney, nerve and brain damage. It can occur from a single exposure to a high dose of lead; however, it more commonly builds up in the body over a period from repeated exposure to small amounts, often without obvious symptoms of poisoning.

Solid lead presents little or no risk to people. However, when lead is processed in a way that produces lead dust, fumes or mist, it can become a health risk.

Paint with a high lead content was used on many buildings and structures built prior to 1970 and may have since been covered by more recently applied non-lead-based paint.

Employees and their families and building occupants in contact with lead-based paint and/or associated dust may be at risk if correct management of the hazard is not undertaken.

Ozone Depleting Substances

Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) describe a family of man-made chemicals which were commonly used in manufacturing from the 1920s onwards and have contributed to the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer. 

Although they are not toxic to humans, ODS have contributed to the depletion of the earth’s atmosphere and need to be properly removed and disposed of. Common sources of ODS include air conditioning units, fire extinguishers and industrial cleaning products.

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (the Montreal Protocol) is an international agreement made in 1987. It was designed to stop the production and import of ozone depleting substances and reduce their concentration in the atmosphere to help protect the earth's ozone layer.

Nominated Biological Hazards - Bird Guano

The risk from disturbing small amounts of fresh droppings is very low but grows higher from disturbing large accumulations of concentrated, dried droppings.

Health conditions resulting from encountering bird guano include: Histoplasmosis, Cryptococcosis, Psittacosis and Gastrointestinal illness.

How do you contain hazardous materials?

If hazardous materials are kept in good condition, they often pose negligible risk. The materials must still be noted on a register that will ensure they are not inappropriately disturbed and routinely inspected to ensure the condition is still appropriate.

However, if disturbed or in poor condition, it is vital that a professional is engaged to assess the risk and provide management recommendations. This may include containment by overpainting (for lead paint), removal or other form of barrier applied.

Hazardous Materials Management & Services 

Some of the ways EDP can assist in identify and managing Hazardous Materials include:

  • Asbestos and hazardous building materials surveys and registers
  • Comprehensive survey involving the identification of: Asbestos, asbestos containing dust, lead containing paint, lead containing dust, PCB, ODS and SMF.
  • Asbestos and hazardous materials risk assessments and management plans
  • Thorough assessment of nominated hazardous materials at a site and the compilation of a bespoke management plan for the items identified.
  • Preparation of technical specification 
  • This document is drafted to assist clients with application of management strategies and documenting the process involved in safely removing Hazardous materials from a specific site.
  • Asbestos removal project supervision
  • Asbestos hygiene supervision of the Licensed Asbestos Removal Contractor during asbestos removal works


Review of Asbestos Removal Control Plan 

Review of supplied documentation and endorsement prior to Licenced Asbestos Removal Contractors’ mobilisation to site.

Asbestos Clearance Inspections

Conducting a visual clearance inspection after asbestos removal or remediation works have been conducted. Followed by a Clearance certificate detailing the findings of the inspection.

Asbestos Fibre Air Monitoring

Monitoring is conducted prior to, during and after asbestos removal or remediation is conducted. Monitoring is mandatory for friable asbestos removal works.

Customised Asbestos Awareness & Management Training

Experienced Hazmat consultants conduct bespoke training sessions tailored to the needs of the client.

Employee and community hazardous material briefing sessions

Experienced Hazmat Consultants can be requested to brief the public or employees about risks associated with hazardous materials.