The asbestos sampling process

The only way to be certain that something contains asbestos is to have a sample of the material tested. It is recommended that all testing be undertaken by a laboratory accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities to undertake asbestos testing to Australian Standard AS 4964 Method for the qualitative identification of asbestos in bulk samples or a laboratory recommended by the work health and safety regulator in your state or territory.

It is recommended that samples be collected by an experienced professional such as an occupational hygienist or a licenced asbestos removalist, or by an accredited laboratory or inspection body. If you decide that you want to take the samples yourself, it is vital that you take appropriate precautions to ensure you do not expose yourself or others to asbestos fibres.  Please read and consider the below information and ensure that you have everything ready before you start the process.

The information provided has been adapted from the Safe Work Australia How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace Code of Practice.

Step 1 –Preparation

  • Prior to commencing, find an accredited laboratory. Contact the laboratory to discuss your request and get advice on how to transport your samples for testing
  • Isolate the area and make sure no one else is around when sampling is done
  • Shut down any heating or cooling systems to minimise the spread of any released fibres
  • Turn off any fans if you’re inside. If outside, make sure samples are not taken on a windy day
  • Do not disturb the material any more than is needed to take a small sample (see below)
  • Collect all of  the equipment you will need, including:
    • Pliers, resealable plastic bags, disposable coveralls, waterproof sealant, plastic drop sheets, 200µm (0.2mm) thick plastic waste bag, water spray bottle, P2 respirator and rubber gloves.

Step 2 – Taking the sample

  • Wear disposable gloves, a P2 respirator and disposable coveralls. These should be available from your local hardware store
  • Lay down a plastic drop sheet to catch any loose material that may fall off while taking the sample
  • Wet the material using a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent before taking the sample. The mist will reduce the release of fibres
  • Carefully cut a thumb nail piece from the entire depth of the material using the pliers
  • For fibre cement sheeting, take the sample from a corner edge or along an existing hole or crack
  • Place the small piece into a resealable plastic bag. Double bag the sample and label it with the date, location and any other information that may be useful to the laboratory. Samples should be fully labelled with something that won’t wash/fall off. The label should be on the body of the container
  • Use a damp rag to clean up any material around the area sampled.

Step 3 – Cleaning up

  • Seal the edges with waterproof sealant where the sample was taken. Good sealant options include painting the area with plastic paint or using a mixture of PVA glue and water (1:10)
  • Carefully wrap the plastic drop sheet and secure with tape. Place this in a 200µm (0.2mm) thick plastic waste bag
  • Wipe down all tools and equipment used with a damp rag
  • Place disposable gloves, coveralls and damp rag into the plastic bag with the drop sheet and seal the bag. Place the sealed bag, inside another sealable bag. Mark the outer bag as containing asbestos waste and dispose of it at a facility licenced to accept asbestos waste.
  • Only remove your respirator once the entire clean-up process has been completed
  • Shower and wash your hair to remove any residual fibres
  • Arrange for the transportation of samples to the laboratory as per instructions given.

For more information please refer to Safe Work Australia’s Code of Practice – How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace or the NATA Industry User Guide No. 7 Working With NATA Accredited Asbestos Facilities