Whilst the vast majority of Dangerous Goods and Hazardous Substances (DG&HS) within workplace environments are captured within routine Health and Safety audits and other safe systems of work in place (such as valid Safety Data Sheets, registers and controlled procedures), there are a number of hazardous materials likely to affect the ongoing management of various workplace situations which are not routinely identified. In this case, although the immediate risk associated from the materials in question would be low in normal circumstances, the potential for the risk increasing becomes applicable during any disturbance activities, including building refurbishment, renovation, alteration and demolition.

Over and above the provision of detailed Asbestos Containing Material surveys, we have in place the relevant level of experience from previous and numerous projects to identify for the presence of the following materials:

  • Synthetic Mineral Fibres
  • Lead Based Paints
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB’s)
  • Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS)

Although these materials can be identified within a specific Hazardous Materials (HazMat) survey, it is often more cost effective to incorporate the same within the remit of a site Asbestos Containing Materials survey.

Synthetic Mineral Fibres:

Whilst the risk from such materials remains low during normal day to day activities, the risk of exposure to Respirable SMF fibre is increased as and when the materials are disturbed. Although there is limited evidence to indicate that exposure to SMF leads to disease consistent with asbestos, or in fact other carcinogenic materials generally; older type SMF products prior to 1990, are potentially carcinogenic and listed as Hazardous Materials by Safe Work Australia (SWA). Exposure may lead to respiratory tract irritation, eye irritation or skin sensitization, which in turn can lead to further issues where personnel may already be affected by other medical conditions, including skin conditions and Asthma.

The previous use of SMF materials was varied and diverse, and in many situations seen as the natural replacement to the use of asbestos fibre, which included insulation materials, thermal, acoustic and electrical. The fact that SMF materials were used as a replacement for asbestos materials, has also highlighted that SMF insulation materials may well be concealing previously removed asbestos, particularly to installations where asbestos was removed some years ago. In addition to insulation materials including those used for roof insulation within roof cavities of domestic properties, SMF was used to manufacture suspended ceiling tiles, wall linings and refractory linings.

Having in place a register detailing the locations and type of SMF materials within a workplace environment will assist with potential exposure and ensure that the relevant levels of controls can be introduced prior to any disturbance or removal likely to release Respirable SMF into the normal atmosphere.

You can view full details on this topic from SafeWork Australia here

Lead-Based Paints:

The general level of risk is increased by cumulative exposure and with the main health risks associated with the absorption of lead into the blood stream and the inhalation of airborne lead dust.

As with most hazardous materials used historically and whilst existing legislation works to reduce future exposure, the extent of Lead based paints manufactured would determine that such materials remain extensively within the painted surfaces of older buildings, although lead based paints have also been detected in buildings constructed up to the late 1980’s.

Within Hazardous material audits of buildings and with reference to the presence of Lead based paints, the overall assessment and using non-destructive testing to provide an indication as to the location and presence of Lead based paints, can be completed routinely and without any general disturbance or risks to the occupants or users of a building. Whilst indicative testing confirms the presence of Lead based paints having a Lead content in excess of >1.0%, prior to any major works or activities likely to cause significant disturbance to the Lead based paints further laboratory testing should be considered.

For Workplace situations and with regards to the regulations pertaining to the presence of Lead containing materials, this link to the current version of the Workplace Health & Safety Regulations 2011, and specifically Chapter 7, Part7.2 regulations 392 to 418 inclusive should be consulted.

Further guidance with reference to the management of lead based paints can be found within the following Australian Standards:

Australian Standard (AS) 4361.2 Guide to Lead Paint Management; Part 2 Residential and Commercial Buildings, published in May 1998.

This Standard complements AS 4361.1 for industrial applications.

With regards to the possible presence of Lead based paints within Residential situations the following links provide further details and information:



Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB’s):

PCBs have been used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment (such as transformers and capacitors), hydraulic fluids, and additives in paint, carbonless copy paper, plasticisers and dye carriers. PCBs were used as they do not burn easily and are good insulators.

Symptoms experienced by people exposed to large amounts of PCBs are skin conditions such as acne or rashes (also known as chloracne) and irritation and burning in the eyes. Blood and urine tests indicate damage to the liver for affected people. Other symptoms include nausea, lethargy, brown pigmentation of skin and nails, swelling of the face, distinctive hair follicles, and excessive eye discharge, swelling of the eyelids, visual disturbances, gastrointestinal disturbances, Jaundice and decreased lung function. These are only likely to be evident in those who work with PCBs and who do not wear appropriate protective clothing. In the general population these effects are not considered likely. The following link provides further information.


Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS):

Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) are those substances which deplete the ozone layer and are widely used in refrigerators, air conditioners, fire extinguishers, in dry cleaning, as solvents for cleaning, electronic equipment and as agricultural fumigants. Concerns about the depletion of the ozone layer exist because the ozone layer reduces the amount of harmful ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth’s surface.
With reference to the above, having in place a register of equipment likely to contain ODS will allow the correct level of management controls to be implemented and in turn reduce the potential for accidental releases. Where materials have been identified and the equipment required removal from site as part on ongoing maintenance or demolition, then existing legislation identifies that any decanting of the refrigerants must be completed by technicians holding a Refrigerant Handling Licence.

Additional information pertaining to Ozone Depleting Substances is available from the Australian Government link below:

The following link provides a search facility for organisations able to provide technicians with a Refrigerant Handling Licence.