Asbestos Testing

March 28, 2022

Sebastian Tiller

Asbestos Testing: How to Test for Asbestos

Asbestos testing is a very important aspect of running a workplace. Because it is a hazardous material, asbestos testing and removal is a delicate process where there is little room for error. While businesses outsource their testing to third party specialists, it is still important to understand how the testing process works regardless.

What is asbestos?

It is a substance consisting of naturally occurring minerals. Due to its particularly potent heat resistance, it was used as insulation for a wide range of building products throughout Australia for about half a century, including, but not limited to:

  • flat and corrugated sheeting
  • cement pipes
  • insulation
  • floor tiles
  • adhesives
  • roofing
  • automobile parts such as brake pads
  • textiles
  • textured paints

Because Australia was one of the highest users of asbestos per capita, we continue to find it in construction parts to this day. However, products containing it were phased out during the 1980s, with a national ban on products and importation coming into effect in 2003.

Laboratories conduct testing in order to ensure that this substance is not in a location where it can affect people and cause serious harm. This testing is enacted for both the home and the workplace.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

When workers handle asbestos-containing materials in an unsafe manner, fibres can be released into the air. These fibres can be 50 to 200 times thinner than a human hair, can be inhaled easily and can be near impossible to detect. When inhaled, these fibres become trapped deep in your lungs, which causes extensive damage over long periods of time.

The two asbestos-containing material groups include:

  • Bonded (non-friable) materials, made up of a bonding agent (such as cement) with fibres added. They usually contain less than 15% of asbestos and normally do not release fibres unless they are disturbed, damaged or have deteriorated over time.
  • Friable (loosely bound) materials are those which can be crumbled or reduced to powder by hand. Bonded asbestos can become friable if severely fire damaged or crusted. Friable asbestos materials are the most dangerous as the fibres can be released into the air.

This is why businesses need to ensure regular testing services in their workplace. The potential for employees or visitors to come into contact with this hazardous material is high enough that regular testing is important for keeping everyone safe.

How to test for asbestos

Testing is carried out in specialised scientific laboratories using methods such as:

  • Polarised Light Microscopy Testing - A detection method in which a polarised light microscope observes details of a substance that would otherwise be invisible due to their optically anisotropic characteristics.
  • Dispersion Staining Testing - An analytical technique used in light microscopy in which the differences in light refraction between a standard and unknown material are observed using a known dispersion curve.

Testing techniques such as these are complex, and cannot be performed without the necessary testing expertise and equipment. This is why businesses outsource their testing to expert institutions that know testing protocols.

How can I identify asbestos in my workplace?

Because asbestos is difficult to identify and you can’t tell if a material contains it with the naked eye, the testing requires specialised testing equipment. In order to confirm whether or not a material contains asbestos, you need to submit a sample of said material to a laboratory approved by the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) in Australia or International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) in New Zealand for testing services.

It is important to only have qualified personnel extract the material samples for testing. These qualified personnel include:

  • Professional occupational hygienists
  • Licensed removalists
  • NATA & IANZ accredited laboratory staff

What areas in the workplace are likely to contain asbestos?

Some of the areas in the workplace where you may potentially find hazardous material that needs testing are:

  • The external area of the building
    • Exterior wall
    • Electricity metre and fuse box
    • Moulded ventilation
    • Window and door mouldings, window rope and putty
    • Telecommunications pit
    • Vehicle brake linings
    • Wall cladding
  • Plant/Boiler Room
    • Fire door (with an asbestos core)
    • Flues
    • Gaskets
    • Lagging around pipes
    • Plant and other machinery containing asbestos gaskets and/or seals
    • Switchboard
  • Kitchen
    • Walls
    • Ceilings
    • Splashbacks
    • Backing of vinyl floor tiles
    • Hot water insulation set into wall
    • Underlay sheeting for ceramic tiles
    • Cement sheet ceilings
  • Roof
    • Roof surface
    • Downpipes
    • Eaves
    • Flue exhausts
    • Guttering
    • Lining under eaves
    • Loose roof insulation
    • Rainwater heads
    • Ridge tiles
    • Roof sheeting
    • Roof ventilators
  • Bathroom
    • Walls
    • Toilet
    • Ceiling
    • Floors
    • Backing to wall tiles
    • Hot water insulation set into walls
    • Sheet walls
    • Shower lining

What should I do to manage asbestos in my workplace?

There is a step by step process that you can use to manage it in your workplace, ensuring the safety of your employees:

  • Appoint a coordinator to centrally manage asbestos within your organisation.
  • Have an inspection performed in order to identify all asbestos in the workplace.
    • If an area or material is suspected to contain asbestos, either assume that it has asbestos, or have it sampled and sent to a NATA or IANZ approved analyst for identification and testing.
    • Identify all inaccessible areas that are likely to contain it as well.
  • Prepare a register that includes all identified areas, both accessible and inaccessible.
  • Control all risks by eliminating, enclosing or sealing identified asbestos.
  • Implement a system that informs those that attend the workplace (such as employees and contractors) where asbestos is located and may be disturbed.
  • Label asbestos containing assets wherever practical.
    • Brief employees on the labelling so they are aware
  • Keep the asbestos register up-to-date, update it when changes are made (including removal, enclosure, sealing), and ensure that the register is revised at least every five years.

How can I make the process of asbestos management as efficient and effective as possible?

Because asbestos management is such a multifaceted process, a simple asbestos software solution such as Octfolio is a valuable asset for your business. Octfolio contains every function that you need in order to successfully handle all aspects of asbestos management services, including;

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

Octfolio gives you full control over the asbestos management of your business.


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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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