If your house was built or renovated before 1990 it is likely that it will contain some form of asbestos containing material (ACM). If you are unsure whether your home contains asbestos, an asbestos survey will assist you to become informed of its location, condition and give guidance on how to manage the risk.
What is an asbestos survey?
An asbestos survey is a process where an experienced asbestos contractor conducts an audit of your property to identify ACMs and provides you with a report making recommendations on removal or management strategies.
When should I get an asbestos survey done?
If you are planning home renovations, an asbestos survey will help to identify asbestos that needs to be managed or removed as part of the process. It is important that a survey be conducted before you start work to avoid disturbing ACMs.
A pre-renovation or demolition survey identifying asbestos may be required prior to undertaking certain activities. It is recommended that you check with the work health and safety regulator in your state or territory to find out what specific requirements apply.
You may also wish to consider undertaking an asbestos survey prior to purchasing a property. Asbestos in poor condition will need to be removed or managed, and this might be a financial consideration during the sale process.
Where do I go to find a competent person to carry out the survey?
In the ACT, all asbestos survey work MUST be carried out by a licenced asbestos assessor. In all other states and territories, asbestos survey work must be carried out by a competent person.
When determining whether someone is a competent person, you should consider the following:
- Whether they are trained and experienced in taking asbestos samples
- Whether they have the knowledge and experience to identify suspected asbestos and be able to determine risk and control measures
- Whether they are familiar with building and construction practices to determine where asbestos is likely to be present
Professionals who may meet this definition include:
- Occupational hygienists who have experience with asbestos
- Licenced asbestos assessors
- Individuals who have undertaken an appropriate training course in asbestos identification
The contractor wants to take samples and have these analysed – do I need this?
The only way to confirm that a substance or material contains asbestos is to have it tested in a laboratory. It is recommended that all testing be undertaken by a laboratory accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA).
Sampling involves the careful removal of a small section of suspected material to be sent to a laboratory for testing. Depending on their experience, some contractors may offer a visual identification service that does not involve the taking of samples for testing. It is important to know that in the absence of testing, it is only assumed that the material is or is not asbestos.
If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos until it has been confirmed otherwise.
What does taking samples involve? Can I do this myself?
When taking a sample, care needs to be taken to ensure that fibre disturbance is kept to a minimum. The contractor undertaking the survey will usually take these samples for you and manage testing process.
If you are planning to do it yourself, you should familiarise yourself with the information on the sampling process.
What should the report I receive include?
The asbestos contractor should prepare and provide you with a report that includes the following information:
- Details of the person conducting the survey
- The location and a description of materials that contain/are suspected to contain asbestos (including photos)
- Laboratory testing results (if sampling occurs)
- Recommended action items (management strategies or removal)
Once I have the report, what should I do with it?
You should carefully read the report and any recommendations made. If you are unsure about any aspects of the report, seek further clarification and advice from the person who prepared it. You should provide a copy of the report to any tradesperson intending to carry out work on your home so they are aware the presence of asbestos in the property.
If asbestos is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed, it can be left in place and monitored over time. If the asbestos is subject to minor damage or weathering, the report may indicate that it be repaired or sealed as a measure to prolong its life and manage the risk until removal becomes necessary. It is important to ensure that you regularly inspect the material to determine if there have been any changes to its condition.
For information on how to safely manage asbestos, see the Code of Practice: How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace.
While the Code of Practice was drafted primarily to assist those managing asbestos in the workplace, the information and advice can also be applied to managing asbestos risks in the residential sector.
If asbestos is in poor condition or is likely to be damaged or disturbed as part of a renovation process, this material should be removed. Removal requirements will depend on the type and amount of ACM present.
Non-friable (or bonded) asbestos products contain asbestos fibres held within a solid matrix (such as cement). These fibres are less likely to become airborne - unless the product is damaged, has deteriorated or is drilled, cut or sanded. Asbestos wall sheedting, fences, roofs, vinyl floor tiles and asbestos cement sheeting are common examples of non-friable asbestos products. All non-friable asbestos greater than 10m2 MUST be removed by a licenced asbestos removalist with either a Class A or Class B licence.
For information on the unlicensed removal of less than 10m2 of non-friable asbestos, refer to the Model Code of Practice: How to Safely Remove Asbestos.
Friable asbestos products contain loosely packed asbestos fibres and can be crushed easily by hand. These products are considered to be high risk and should not be interfered with. Examples of friable asbestos products include loose-fill asbestos insulation, pipe lagging and asbestos fibre blankets. Friable asbestos can ONLY be removed by a person who holds a Class A licence.
Asbestos removalists are licenced through the work health and safety regulator in each state and territory. Most regulators will have a list of licenced removalists available on their website you can access to help you to select a qualified person.