Asbestos Surveying Guide

January 5, 2023

Sebastian Tiller

Asbestos Surveying Guide

Asbestos surveying plays an important role in the management of asbestos containing materials (ACMs). Not only is asbestos surveying important for maintaining a safe working environment for employees, it is also a legal requirement. 

In order for your business to be compliant with work health and safety laws, you must conduct asbestos surveys if your business operates in a commercial building that was constructed prior to 1990 (Safe Work Australia, 2018). 

However, it is strongly recommended that you conduct asbestos surveys if your building was constructed before 2003, as that was the year that the Australian Government imposed a full ban of the use of asbestos in construction.

What is Asbestos Surveying?

Asbestos surveying is a procedure that exists to help manage asbestos by identifying where it is likely to be. There are two separate methods that are used in asbestos surveying, in order to create a complete picture regarding asbestos in the workplace;

  • A visual inspection of all accessible areas inside the building
  • The collection of materials that are suspected to contain asbestos

Once an asbestos survey is complete, samples are taken from suspected ACMs and analysed by an accredited laboratory to identify whether they are contaminated. Additionally, the results of the survey are collected in a register, including;

  • The location of the ACM
  • The composition and type of asbestos (as well as material friability)
  • The health risk of the asbestos (based on the condition, potential for disturbance and occupancy level)
  • The conclusion as to what actions need to be taken to eliminate contamination risks

Types of Asbestos Surveys

There are different kinds of asbestos surveys. While they operate on the same principles (i.e. combining the visual inspection and the sample collection of ACMs), they are differentiated by the circumstances under which they are conducted, and the level of detail that they require as a result. 

Asbestos Management Survey

This is the most standard kind of asbestos survey. Its goal is to ensure that building owners and occupants can be aware of;

  • Where asbestos is most likely to be
  • The condition of the materials that contain it

Asbestos management surveys allow those responsible for asbestos management to act quickly and address any damaged or deteriorating materials that could release asbestos contaminants into the environment.

While this is a standard form of asbestos surveying, it is not appropriate for construction or refurbishment work, as well as extensive maintenance work.

Limited Asbestos Survey

A limited asbestos survey is a more comprehensive sampling of building materials and suspected ACMs than a regular asbestos survey. Instead of broadly covering a building, a limited asbestos survey covers in more detail specific building materials known for containing asbestos. These building materials include roofing, walls, siding and other areas. 

Path of Construction/Pre-Renovation Asbestos Survey

A path of construction asbestos survey (a.k.a. A pre renovation asbestos survey) is conducted when extensive construction or renovation is taking place in a commercial building. This kind of asbestos survey is limited to the path of construction and/or the actual building materials. The goal of this asbestos survey is to ensure that the renovation taking place does not impact the environment or release ACM to areas that are disturbed during construction or renovation activities.

Pre-Demolition Asbestos Survey

A pre-demolition asbestos survey is the most comprehensive type of asbestos survey that is performed. This is because demolitions carry an environmental risk in which the asbestos that is used in their construction has the capacity to be released into the environment once the materials that contain them are broken. 

A pre-demolition survey inspects all facets of an entire building; including interior and exterior building materials, utilising destructive sampling protocols. To uncover ACM behind walls, floors, or other hard-to-reach areas, demolition surveys require the destruction of small sections of the building.

Benefits of Asbestos Surveys

The benefits of asbestos surveys are incredibly important, as they ensure the safety of a building’s occupants by determining how many ACMs are present in a commercial building, that way they can be safely removed and the building can be primed for occupancy.

Not only is there the main benefit of creating a safer environment for a building’s occupants. There are other construction related benefits to asbestos surveying, such as;

  • Less risk in the event that a building is renovated or reconstructed, as potential asbestos contaminants have been removed
  • Once asbestos containing materials have been removed, future constructions can be completed quicker, saving time and money in the process
  • The amount of delays that insulation contractors working on your building will experience will be significantly reduced due to the lack of asbestos inspections needed

Conducting an Asbestos Survey

Conducting an asbestos survey can be separated into three sections;

  • Planning the survey by collecting all relevant building information, determining how the survey will be enacted and conducting a risk assessment
  • Conducting the actual asbestos survey by inspecting the building materials and collecting relevant ACM samples
  • Evaluating the results of the survey, updating all of the registers and determining the next course of action in order to remove asbestos

The Process of Asbestos Surveying

While there are different kinds of asbestos surveys, all of them should involve the following steps;

  • Checking external areas by working downwards from high to low, as well as from the periphery inwards.

  • Checking internal areas by working downwards from the roof to the basement, inspecting each area individually, working around each area clockwise from the entry door, and inspecting each component inside each compartment in the following order: ceiling, walls, floors, fixtures and fittings, equipment and services.

  • Checking and inspecting every item that may contain asbestos or ACM, sampling and taking photographs as you go, rechecking areas that are complex or contain many items, and then doing a final walkthrough checking your notes as you go.

The Role of an Asbestos Surveyor

An asbestos surveyor needs to have sufficient training, qualifications, knowledge, experience and ability to sample and identify asbestos, have sufficient knowledge of the tasks required and the risks the work will involve, demonstrate independence and use a quality management system.

Not only is this to ensure that the asbestos survey is carried out correctly to ensure the safety of the workplace, but it is also a legal requirement under the Safe Work Act that reinforces the compliance of your building (Safe Work Australia, 2018). 

The Legal Requirements of Asbestos Surveys

In previous sections, we have established per the Safe Work Act that;

  • Asbestos surveys are a legal requirement that need to be enacted on commercial properties
  • Asbestos surveys must be carried out by qualified individual with the knowledge and expertise necessary to conduct a thorough and effective asbestos survey

But, whose responsibility is it to make sure that an asbestos survey is completed? The answer depends on the state. Asbestos surveys are a responsibility that is lumped in with other asbestos management responsibilities. In Victoria and Western Australia, asbestos management responsibilities fall on the owner of the commercial building.

However; New South Wales, Queensland, ACT, Tasmania, Northern Territory and South Australia follow the Federal Model Work Health and Safety legislation introduced in 2011 (current amendments dated 14 April 2022, as of this article’s writing).

With this legislation, the responsibility of asbestos surveying is put onto the person renting the property from the owner, as they are the ones most likely to be operating the business inside said property.

For more information, you can read the Model Work Health and Safety Act from the Safe Work Australia website.

What other asbestos management responsibilities would the owner of a commercial property have?

Owners of buildings are responsible for managing asbestos in their buildings, controlling it, and removing it in accordance with regulations. To accomplish this, asbestos documentation strategies must be developed, such as asbestos registration and reporting, and asbestos documentation must be distributed to important stakeholders.

Where can I go for more information on asbestos surveys in my state?

Risks and Hazards Associated with Asbestos Surveying

The risks and hazards associated with asbestos surveying are the same health risks that asbestos pose in any other context. When ACMs are broken or disrupted, it releases asbestos particles into the air, where they can be inhaled by any passers by.

Any person in the surrounding environment is at risk of health problems from exposure to asbestos particles in the air. Asbestos fibres are incredibly easy to inhale when they become airborne, which is where they travel to the lungs. The inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause extensive damage to the lungs, resulting in debilitating and potentially life threatening diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural disorders and mesothelioma.

How Can Octfolio Help Me Keep Track of Asbestos Surveys?

Conducting asbestos surveying means evaluating all of the asbestos information in your building. Collecting and referring back to that information can be difficult to do without software. That’s why Octfolio is a complete asbestos management software solution that has all of the features you need to manage the asbestos information associated with your building.

This includes comprehensive asbestos registers, as well as the easy creation and distribution of asbestos reports.  

  • Asset management
  • Report management
  • Document management
  • Maintenance management
  • Digital asbestos register
  • Field data collection
  • Automated reporting
  • Workflow automation
  • Asbestos mapping software

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Sebastian Tiller

Seb has a long history of delivering elegant solutions to complex business problems that conform to the most exacting compliance standards. He prides himself on his ability to connect with customers and humanise software solutions to be understandable and useful to all parties. He’s also enjoys playing story-based single player games and spending time with his young family, building LEGO, attending recitals, and experiencing new restaurants with his wife.

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