Friable and Non-Friable Asbestos

October 7, 2022

Sebastian Tiller

There are many ways to classify asbestos; from their colour type to their mineral family, however the most common way is to distinguish between whether it is friable or not. This is because this particular method of classifying asbestos containing materials offers the most practical details that inform your overall management plan.

Because of this, it is important to know the difference between friable and its opposite. That is why this article is going to cover the differences between these two types, so you can approach your management plan with the information you need to distinguish between safe and more hazardous ACMs. 

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is several naturally occurring minerals that form a single substance with thermal resistance, acoustic properties and various other construction benefits. 

Because of these benefits, asbestos was extensively used in many Australian building materials from the 1940s to the late 1980s, such as:

  • flat and corrugated sheeting
  • cement pipes
  • insulation
  • floor tiles
  • adhesives
  • roofing
  • automobile parts such as brake pads
  • textiles
  • textured paints

However, it was later discovered that these materials contained adverse health effects, which led to products containing asbestos being phased out in the 1980s. 

Ultimately, the Australian Government enforced a nationwide ban in 2003 that effectively ended its use in construction. It is still found in buildings today.

What does non-friable mean?

Non-friable (also known as bonded) is an asbestos product in which its fibres are held within a solid matrix (usually a substance as hard and impenetrable as cement) and it is therefore more difficult to break.

This means that non-friable ACMs easier to remove, as their fibres are not going to become airborne unless the material has been damaged or has deteriorated over time. 

Examples of where you’ll find these kinds of ACMs include:

  • Fences
  • Roofs
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Cement sheeting

What does friable mean?

Friable (also known as loosely bound) is the more dangerous alternative to non-friable. This is because friable ACMs are contained within fragile materials that can be crushed or broken easily by hand.

Typically, this type of asbestos is more likely to be enclosed or sealed than removed, as removing it could potentially release asbestos fibres into the air, creating a high risk for asbestos exposure.

Examples of friable asbestos products include:

  • Rope
  • Insulation
  • Pipe lagging
  • Fire blankets

It is important to remember that non-friable asbestos products can become friable over time as their surface deteriorates and it is easier for their fibres to be released.

Are both types of asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos is a dangerous substance. However, it is only dangerous when its fibres can be breathed in, which makes non-friable asbestos less dangerous than friable asbestos products. There isn’t an immediate threat to asbestos unless the material containing it is broken, deteriorated or disturbed in such a way that its fibres are released into the air (like when asbestos containing materials are impacted by power tools).

Regardless of whether asbestos is friable or non-friable, its materials should only be handled by qualified professionals in accordance with the asbestos management procedures outlined by your workplace.

Why are there dangers associated with asbestos?

Asbestos fibres are:

  • 50 to 200 times thinner than a human hair
  • Easy to inhale
  • Near impossible to detect

When asbestos fibres are inhaled, they become trapped deep in the lungs, where they proceed to cause extensive damage over a long period of time. This damage results in debilitating lung disease, such as;

  • Pleural plaques, in which thickened patches of scar tissue form on the pleura (lining) of the lung
  • Asbestosis, in which progressive scar tissue forms inside the lungs, resulting in impaired breathing
  • Lung cancer which can develop decades after asbestos exposure, and is particularly susceptible amongst smokers and people with asbestosis
  • Mesothelioma, which is a type of cancer that affects the pleura (the covering of the lung and lining of the chest wall and diaphragm), and can also develop decades after asbestos exposure

How can Octfolio help me manage both friable and non-friable asbestos?

When documenting asbestos containing materials in the workplace, it is important to label ACMs as friable or non-friable so that your asbestos management coordinator can determine the best possible course of action (i.e. removing the ACM or enclosing/sealing it).

Octfolio is an asbestos software solution that makes this process easy. You can list your asbestos assets and easily classify them in a variety of ways, including friable and non-friable. All of the information you store is then easily accessible for your employees.

In fact, with Octfolio, you will find every function required to successfully handle all aspects of asbestos management, such as;

Octfolio gives you full control over the asbestos management of your business.

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Sebastian Tiller

Seb has a long history of delivering elegant solutions to complex business problems that conform to the most exacting compliance standards. He prides himself on his ability to connect with customers and humanise software solutions to be understandable and useful to all parties. He’s also enjoys playing story-based single player games and spending time with his young family, building LEGO, attending recitals, and experiencing new restaurants with his wife.

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