Taking asbestos samples

The task of collecting samples must be done in a controlled manner that does not create a risk to persons taking the sample or persons who will be in the area from which the sample was taken.

Before a sample of suspect material is collected, the employer of any person (or a self-employed person) taking the sample should:

  • determine if there will be a risk to the health of any person including the person taking the sample, taking into account the nature and condition of the material and its location
  • ensure that the person collecting the sample is appropriately trained, experienced and possesses knowledge of the risk of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres
  • assess the risk associated with the specific task to ensure appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment is selected, provided and used during the task
  • where the assessment has determined that a respirator is required ensure that it complies with AS 1716:2003 Respiratory protective devices
  • ensure that appropriate risk control measures are used to control the risk of generating airborne asbestos fibres during the sampling, including where appropriate a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) vacuum to capture dust and a water spray bottle to dampen surfaces during the task
  • ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that a safe method of breaking or dislodging the sample without generating dust is followed
  • ensure the sample is immediately placed in a sealed container which is labelled with details such as the date, time, specific location of the suspect material and the address of the site
  • ensure any tools used to break or dislodge a sample are decontaminated or placed into a labelled asbestos waste bag and disposed of as asbestos waste
  • ensure the area where the sample is collected has been decontaminated and made safe before the area is re-occupied by any person. This will usually be achieved using a HEPA vacuum or wet-wiping surfaces to clean up residual dust
  • ensure any waste such as dust collected by the HEPA vacuum, any debris caused by the sampling process and any material used to wipe up surfaces is placed into a labelled asbestos waste bag and disposed of as asbestos waste
  • ensure the person who has taken the sample follows a suitable personal decontamination process appropriate to the level of risk. This could be very simple, such as removing and disposing of coveralls into an asbestos waste bag and washing hands and face with water followed by removing the respirator last and placing it into a labelled asbestos waste bag.

The analysis technique used in laboratories to identify asbestos in samples does not require the sample to be big. In fact, the sample required is quite small – a sample the size of a 50 cent coin would be sufficient as long as it is a representative sample of the suspect material. It should be the intent of the person collecting the sample to take the smallest possible sample, therefore reducing the potential for generating airborne asbestos dust during the sampling and analysis tasks.

The person taking the sample should have a HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner and a water spray bottle to use for minimising the generation of airborne asbestos containing dust during the task and during clean-up of the area after taking the sample. They should also wear a respirator that complies with AS/NZS1716:2003 Respiratory protective devices while conducting the task and may also need to wear clothing such as disposable coveralls if the location is dusty or the suspect material is deteriorated or damaged. Samples should be immediately placed in sealed containers such as snap lock durable bags or screw top clear plastic containers, and appropriately labelled to enable the source of the sample to be clearly identified at a later point in time.