Find and identify
As a commercial property owner of premises leased or rented to business, you may have management or control of your premises, with associated legal duties in relation to management and removing asbestos at that workplace.
Use this checklist to help you find and identify asbestos in your premises.
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 asbestos, brown asbestos and asbestos-containing products in the mid-1980s. The manufacture and import of white asbestos products was banned 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.
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, for example a roof is made from corrugated cement sheeting, it may contain asbestos fibres bonded to cement particles.
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.
Use a competent person to identify asbestos
Anyone inspecting for asbestos, determining risk, or recommending control measures must be competent to do so.
A competent 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, you should use an external provider, 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 and professional affiliations
- references from previous work (consider asking for examples of reports prepared for other clients).
An example of a suitably competent person is an occupational hygienist with experience in identifying asbestos and assessing its associated risks.
An occupational hygienist who specialises in asbestos can provide assistance with:
- identifying asbestos in a workplace
- developing an asbestos register
- reviewing an asbestos register
- the sampling of asbestos fibres in the air and the measurement of these to the asbestos exposure standard
- the determination of minor contamination
- provision of a clearance certificate
How to find an Occupational Hygienist
You can find a qualified Occupational Hygienist through the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists.
National Association of Testing Authorities
A suitably competent person may also be found at companies approved by the National Association of Testing Authorities (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 the 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.
Where there is uncertainty (based on reasonable grounds) as to whether asbestos is present, or if there are inaccessible areas that are likely to contain asbestos, the person who manages or controls the workplace must either assume that asbestos is present or arrange for analysis of a sample to be taken.
The analysis needs to be undertaken by a person who is suitably trained and experienced in a safe method of asbestos sampling.
Samples should be taken in a controlled manner that does not create a risk of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres 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 Dust Class H (high hazard) high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuum cleaner and a water spray bottle to suppress airborne dust (a respirator – approved by AS/NZS 1716:2012 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.
For more information see the detailed guidance on taking an asbestos sample and the Managing asbestos in workplaces compliance code.
Arrange for analysis of asbestos samples
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, 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 the National Association of Testing Authorities (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.