Fines Serve as Warning on Asbestos Imports

The District Court of Western Australia has imposed fines on a company for importing gaskets containing asbestos, even though they had imported the asbestos inadvertently.


In a judgement that should serve as a warning for all businesses operating in Australia that import goods, the District Court of Western Australia has convicted and imposed fines on a multi-national energy corporation for importing gaskets containing asbestos, even though the court found the company had imported the asbestos inadvertently.

The company, which has significant assets in WA, was convicted of two counts of contravening s233 (1)(b) of the Customs Act 1901 for importing a prohibited item, namely chrysotile asbestos, contained in gaskets in a condensate metering skid and two storage tanks in 2012 and 2013.

The company was ordered to pay fines and costs totalling $175,000. A representative from Australian Border Force (ABF) said it was every importer’s responsibility to ensure that all their imported goods contain no asbestos - the fact that the company in this case was unaware the imported gaskets contained asbestos at the time of import did not excuse it from liability.

In this case, it was the company itself that had detected the asbestos and voluntarily disclosed it - they had co-operated with authorities and accepted liability.

Despite some countries being lawfully permitted to label or test goods declaring them asbestos free if they are below a certain threshold, the ABF has reminded importers not to assume that goods labelled ‘asbestos free’ are in fact free of asbestos, or that testing of goods undertaken overseas and certified ‘asbestos free’, meet Australia’s import requirements.

Importers should be aware of the increased risk of goods containing asbestos when sourced from countries that have asbestos producing industries. To ensure that goods manufactured overseas do not contain asbestos, importers should question their overseas suppliers about the use of asbestos at any point in the supply chain.

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