How do you know if you have asbestos?

How do you know if you have asbestos?

As a commercial property owner of premises leased or rented to business, you may have management or control of your premises. 

Use this checklist to help you find and identify asbestos in your building or structure.

  • Identify when the building was constructed

Asbestos was widely used as a construction and insulation material in buildings constructed before the late-1980s. Australia banned the use or import of blue and brown asbestos or asbestos products in the mid-1980s, and banned all manufacture or import of white asbestos products in December 2003.

However, building materials may have been stockpiled, stored or recycled and used in the construction of buildings after the bans came into place. This means there is still a chance that asbestos containing materials may be in buildings constructed after the mid-1980s.

Of course any refurbishment or extensions to an original building before the mid-1980s may have used asbestos containing materials. Just because the original parts of the building do not contain asbestos, you should not assume that additions do not.

  • Identify what materials were used in constructing the building

Think about your building’s main construction materials. Is it constructed from timber, brick, steel, cement sheet or another material?

If you have cement sheet, there’s a chance it could contain asbestos fibres bonded to cement particles. For example, if a roof is made from corrugated cement sheeting, there’s a chance it contains asbestos.

Because of the hardiness and waterproofing qualities of asbestos, areas of the building prone to wet conditions like bathrooms, toilets and laundries may have asbestos sheeting or asbestos vinyl tiles in the walls and floors. Likewise, pipes throughout the building that carry water and sewage may also contain asbestos.

  • Do a walkthrough inspection to find asbestos

Conduct a thorough inspection of all buildings and structures including all rooms and spaces, ceiling spaces, cellars, shafts, storage areas and wall cavities.

You should always assume material contains asbestos, or get it tested when:

– it can’t be identified

– it can’t be accessed and is likely to contain asbestos

– you otherwise can’t be sure it doesn’t contain asbestos.

The design plans for a building, structure, ship or plant may help in identifying inaccessible areas. Talking to builders, architects, manufacturers of plant and maintenance employees can also help. Experience and findings from inspections of similar sections of the building (or similar buildings) may also be helpful.

It’s important to take notes and photos during your inspection because the notes can be used to produce the asbestos register.You can find more information about asbestos registers in the Manage Asbestos section

  • Use a competent person to identify asbestos

Anyone inspecting for asbestos, determining risk, or recommending control measures must be competent to do so.

To be competent a person should:

– have appropriate training, knowledge and experience in identifying suspected asbestos materials and be able to determine risk and appropriate controls

– be familiar with building and construction practices to determine where asbestos is likely to be present

– be able to determine that material may be friable or non-friable and evaluate its condition.

If you do not have the capability to identify asbestos, then you should use an external providers, for example, a consultant.

  • Selecting an external provider

When selecting an external provider, you should consider:

– their background and experience

– their specific expertise

– their qualifications or professional affiliations

– references from previous work (consider asking for examples of reports prepared for other clients).

An example of a suitably competent person may be an occupational hygienist with experience in identifying asbestos and assessing its associated risks.

An occupational hygienist who specialises in asbestos can provide advice on:

– identifying asbestos in a workplace

– developing an asbestos register

– reviewing an asbestos register

– the sampling of asbestos fibres in the air and the comparison of these to the asbestos exposure standard

– provision of a clearance certificate

How to find an Occupational Hygienist
You can find a qualified Occupational Hygienist through the Australian Institute of Occupational HygienistsThis external link will open in a new window.

National Association of Testing Authority
A suitably competent person may also be found at companies approved by the National Association of Testing AuthoritiesThis external link will open in a new window (NATA) 

  • Taking samples of asbestos

If samples are taken for the purpose of determining if asbestos is present, it is important that representative samples are taken. If there are variations in appearance, texture or colour of the material you’ll need to take additional samples for consistency and valid analysis. For example, full-thickness samples of friable material back to the substrate should be taken. You should also consider taking samples from difficult areas where there is evidence of previous asbestos removals.

The analysis must be undertaken [insert the Asbestos Samples] by a person who is suitably trained and experienced in a safe method of taking samples of asbestos-containing materials.

Samples should be taken in a controlled manner that does not create a risk to the person taking the sample, or people who will work or visit the area where the sample was taken. People taking samples should assess the risk and implement appropriate controls. These may include the use of a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuum cleaner and/or a water spray bottle to suppress airborne dust (a respirator – approved by AS/NZS 1716:2003 Respiratory protective devices – may also be used to minimise exposure).

Samples need to be placed in sealed containers (for example, snap-lock durable bags) and appropriately labelled so that it’s clear where the sample was taken.

Find out more about taking asbestos samples

  • Arrange for analysis of asbestos samples

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007, only approved analysts can analyse samples containing asbestos.

An approved asbestos analyst is an analyst approved by NATA to perform asbestos fibre counting or to identify asbestos in samples and to issue findings as endorsed reports under the authority of a NATA-accredited laboratory.

Before you take a sample to a laboratory, you should confirm the laboratory is accredited to perform asbestos analysis. You can do this by visiting National Association of Testing AuthoritiesThis external link will open in a new window (NATA).

The laboratory will give you a report of your asbestos sample. Endorsed reports have the NATA insignia stamped on the report. You should keep the endorsed report as evidence of compliance.


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