Warning on Asbestos Imports

Since the beginning of 2004, Australia has had a complete ban on the importation, manufacture and use of asbestos and products containing asbestos.

As with some of the electrical wiring and insulated foam panels that are being imported from China, it has now been found that building materials, auto parts, crayons and other products imported into Australia from China, contain asbestos.

It is my understanding that under Chinese law, a product that contains less than 5% asbestos can be labelled “Asbestos free” when in fact the product is not. The use of this product can become a real risk to property owners, importers and tradesmen that purchase and install the products etc.

I will confine my comments in this blog to asbestos related products. Since the massive claims that arose out of the use of asbestos, it has become a blanket exclusion across home, business pack, liability and construction risk policies.

More recently, at least one insurer has an automatic decline on any building that contains asbestos. This is as I understand it, is being reviewed to become a referral and will be rated with the additional risk, however at this stage it is an exclusion.

As these products that are being imported are identified, a product recall will be called and if the importer does, as I suspect, immediately seek to go into liquidation, it will be left with the retailer or tradesmen that has sold the product to bear the cost in the first instance. This could have a crippling effect on those businesses.

It is always tempting to go for the cheapest option whether it be building materials, autoparts or general insurance. The reality is, you typically get what you pay for and that modest saving which was made, turns out to have created a massive uninsured exposure which could literally have life changing consequences.

I attach a copy of the Department of Immigration Border Protection notice #2016/13 on the subject of asbestos.

Brokers are urged to discuss this important topic with their Insureds.

3 responses to “Warning on Asbestos Imports”

  1. Gary McNeil says:

    Thanks very much for this Allan. As usual, very informative.
    I took the opportunity to redirect your information to a client of mine who I happened to know has historically been involved in projects that were involved with asbestos. His response is quite interesting, & with his kind permission I attach hereunder for your review: (This same client also provided me with a fantastic historical “advertising brochure” about asbestos that I’m sure you’ll get a laugh from Allan! I’ll send to you separately.

    OK…here are his comments:

    Thanks for that Gary. Whilst not wishing to question the profs comments I think there is a little more to the story. My understanding is that the governments in both India & China do not recognise chrysotile (white asbestos) as being harmful, so in those countries only products containing amosite (brown asbestos) or crocidolite (blue asbestos) are classified as asbestos bearing materials.
    It seems that amongst the many chrysotile containing materials being imported from those countries automobiles pose one of the greatest problems with their asbestos brake shoes and gaskets.
    In the bad old days motor mechanics formed a large proportion of employees contracting asbestos related diseases as a result of “blowing out” with compressed air brake drums & discs
    I am afraid this is a result of the suppression of unions here in Aus. It was the unions that made sure asbestos free products were used and unfortunately when the government effectively got rid of that “cop on the beat” they didn’t replace it with another cop.
    This idea that 5% asbestos content was considered as “asbestos free” dates back to the mid to late 1970s when I believe that Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS) allowed this. The company that I was with at the time was insulating the new units (5 & 6) at ECNSW Vales Point Power Station on the Central Coast. We imported a large number of containers of material from Japan that indeed did have an asbestos content. All of them were replaced by the manufacturer with real asbestos free materials.
    For some years afterwards it was rumoured that ECNSW had accepted the original material for installation on the station. This was so well believed that many years later when the RAN realised that they had a store full of similar asbestos containing material from Japan they contacted me to see how they could get around the problem and continue to use the material.
    I had to disappoint them. Not sure what they did with theirs.
    Here endeth my sermon.

  2. Allan says:

    This is the beauty of the blog. Everyone learns from the discussion. Thanks to both you and your client for filling in more of the puzzle. My concern now more than ever is the risk to Australian businesses and their owners that the import of this material combined with a blanket exclusion for asbestos on so many policies creates.

  3. Gary McNeil says:

    Totally agree Allan. Thank you again for bringing matters such as these into the public arena for discussion.

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