Asbestos in the Workplace: Work Health and Safety

June 18, 2022

Sebastian Tiller

Work health and safety should always be your top priority, especially when it comes to having asbestos in the workplace. If you’re in charge of a workplace, you have an obligation to make sure that it is both safe for your employees and compliant with regulations.

At Octfolio, we take work health and safety very seriously, which is why we have developed effective management software that gives you complete control over your assets. It is also why we have created this comprehensive guide to work health and safety when it comes to asbestos.

How do I ensure work health and safety?

Work health and safety for asbestos is a multi-step process. Every step is equally important, no matter whether you’re:

  • Preparing for potential asbestos discovery
  • Reacting to the discovery of asbestos
  • Determining the series of actions to take once asbestos has been effectively managed

Hence, think of the following section as a checklist of sorts for all of the stages that come with maintaining the health and safety of your workplace when it comes to asbestos. And, of course, keep in mind that asbestos management software such as Octfolio will make this process a lot easier.

Equipping your team with the tools and equipment

Before you encounter any asbestos containing materials, you need to ensure that your employees have the tools necessary to safely remove it without releasing fibres and creating an exposure risk.

  • Use manually operated or low-speed battery-powered tools. 
  • All low-speed battery-powered tools should be fitted with exhaust ventilation dust control hoods. 
  • Do not use high-powered tools.

Identifying Asbestos

Of course, in order to properly deal with asbestos, you have to be able to find it. This is difficult, considering that it consists of microscopic fibres that are invisible to the naked eye. 

As a result, your goal should not be to find asbestos. Instead you need to identify materials in your building where it may be present.

  • Use a competent person with relevant training and experience in asbestos identification to confirm its presence
  • Test suspected asbestos containing materials using a NATA-accredited laboratory.
  • Identify the presence of asbestos using warning labels.

If you find materials that contain substances that you cannot confirm nor deny may be asbestos, your best course of action is to assume that it contains asbestos. Better safe than sorry.

Removing Asbestos Containing Materials

Removing asbestos containing materials is a process that requires utmost delicacy, as disrupting the material can cause it to break, which means releasing deadly fibres into the environment.

To this end, do not attempt to remove asbestos without expert consultation. Once you have discovered and had the asbestos in your workplace evaluated, the following removal methods can be used:

  • Use wet, non-destructive methods. Saturation and water injection may be needed during friable asbestos removal. 
  • Dry removal should only be used when wet spray methods are not suitable (e.g. near electrical equipment). 
  • Negative air enclosures, glove bag methods or continuous misting sprays may also be needed.

Enclosing Areas With Irremovable Asbestos

There are sometimes instances where you can’t remove all asbestos in a location. This is because removing it carries an insurmountable exposure risk. In the event that this is the case, this is the process that you should follow:

  • Completely cover, seal and prevent access to the material.
  • Seal with resilient matrix or protective coating that prevents the release of asbestos fibres (Never use dry sanding or water blasting to prepare surfaces for sealing).

Isolate Enclosed Areas With Asbestos Containing Materials

Enclosing areas with asbestos containing materials is not enough, as these enclosures can still be disrupted, resulting in another potential exposure risk. The next step is to isolate these areas so that nobody can access them.

  • Limit access by displaying warning signs and installing barricades around asbestos work areas. 
  • Close windows and doors if working inside. 
  • Put up enclosures if required. 
  • Notify others of asbestos work in the area. 
  • When preparing the work area, items that are not needed should be removed to prevent contamination and make the clean up easier.

Cleaning/Decontaminating The Area To Eliminate Further Contamination Risks

Enclosing and isolating the area is only two thirds of the process. The disruption to an area creates clutter and mess that can pose an asbestos contamination threat if not addressed.

As a result, it is important to clean the area once it has been effectively enclosed and isolated to make sure that all potential risks are eliminated. 

  • Use wet clean up methods (water misting or wet wiping only). 
  • Do not sweep asbestos-contaminated material. 
  • Use an approved asbestos vacuum cleaner (not domestic). For commercial removal, clearance inspections are compulsory before re-occupation.

In the aftermath of contaminated material removal, decontamination is needed to ensure that nobody is exposed to asbestos fibres.

  • Wipe down protective clothing using a wet rag. 
  • Remove all PPE in a specified order: remove coveralls first and wipe down and remove boots, gloves and goggles. 
  • Any clothing worn under coveralls must be disposed of or bagged for laundering where disposable clothing is not possible (e.g. emergency services clothing). 
  • Remove the respirator last. 
  • All waste, wet rags, PPE and cleaning materials must be double bagged, sealed and labelled before disposal.

Disposing Asbestos Containing Materials Safely

Like with any other procedure on this list, disposing of asbestos containing material is a process that requires care and attention, and is best carried out by a professional with ACM expertise. If you have to aid in the removal, it is important to do the following:

  • Wet asbestos waste. 
  • Double bag or wrap in 0.2 mm polythene bags (sheeting for large materials) no greater than 1200 mm long and 900 mm wide. 
  • Seal with tape using the ‘gooseneck’ method for bags. 
  • Half fill waste bags to avoid tearing and put on warning labels. 
  • Clean the outside of bags or sheets before removal. 
  • Place in labelled waste bins for secure storage and disposal, or remove immediately from site using a licenced carrier.

Managing and Registering ACM Materials

In tandem with removing ACM and securing the area, you also need to work to ensure that all of your employees are aware of what is going on, as well as keep them informed accordingly. 

This is primarily achieved through the following:

  • Implement a management plan to identify and control potential risks. 
  • Keep an updated register that identifies the location of asbestos (include: date identified, type, condition, locality maps, photos, drawings, etc). 
  • Make sure workers are aware of, and have access to, the register.

Your asbestos management plan must contain the following in order to be effective:

You need to make sure that your management plan contains the following:

  • the workplace's register of asbestos
  • details of maintenance or service work on the asbestos including:
    • who performed the work
    • the dates it was done
    • the scope of the work
    • any clearance certificates
  • how people at risk are informed about:
    • asbestos in the workplace
    • the risks ACMs pose
    • the control measures in place
  • decisions about management options and the reasons for these decisions
  • a timetable for action, including:
    • priorities and dates for reviewing risk assessments
    • specific circumstances that may affect the timetable
  • monitoring arrangements
  • the responsibilities of people involved in the plan
  • training arrangements for workers and contractors
  • a procedure for reviewing and updating the management plan and the register of asbestos, including a timetable safe work methods

It is also necessary to develop a staged plan for the replacement of all identified asbestos containing materials. 

Training Employees On Conduct Around ACM

Of course, an asbestos management plan on its own is practically useless. You need to take a two-pronged approach to your staff, in which you bolster the knowledge they obtain from an management plan with adequate training as well. 

These measures, when enacted together, mean a workforce that is prepared to conduct themselves professionally and safely around ACM without risking exposure or contamination.

  • Train workers about the risks, how to identify them, and how to manage asbestos dangers. 
  • Ensure workers who do or could work with asbestos-containing materials get the proper level of training. 
  • Specialised training and licences are required for asbestos inspectors, assessors, removalists and supervisors.

Providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) To Your Workers

When workers need to dispose of asbestos material, it is important that they are provided with effective PPE so that they are safe from possible exposure.

  • For friable removal, wear air supplied or air purifying respiratory protection that filters asbestos fibres, fitted for each worker individually. 
  • For non-friable removal, class P2 respirators are needed. 
  • For all removal, use disposable coveralls with fitted hoods that prevent penetration of asbestos fibres (type 5, category 3), impermeable gloves, gumboots (not laced boots), boot covers and eye protection. 
  • Seal wrist and ankle openings with tape.

Where am I likely to find asbestos in the workplace?

Because Australia was the most prominent user of asbestos in construction for insulation purposes, there are various work buildings that still have the potential to contain harmful asbestos deposits. 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 walls
    • 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

Remember the golden rule when it comes to asbestos management; if you think there’s asbestos, treat it like there is.

How does Octfolio help with maintaining workplace safety?

Asbestos software contains a number of features that helps you maintain workplace health and safety where asbestos containing materials are involved. Octfolio, in particular, has all of the features you need to keep your workplace ahead of any ACMs. Below, we have put together a list of all of everything you can do with Octfolio.

You can easily manage all of your assets

Octfolio makes it easy to record and access information on identified asbestos assets, storing swaths of information on a database that is easy to navigate. This functionality makes it easy for assets to be updated and inform your employees on ACMs in the workplace.

You can create and disseminate reports

Compiling reports used to be a costly and time consuming process, as it involved manually combing through paper registers. However, Octfolio allows for the easy creation and customisation of reports, offering a high level of customisability. Reports can then be easily exported in a variety of supported formats and sent to workers.

You can ensure compliance of your business

Under the current law, you are required to update your registers in the event that:

  • Your management plan is reviewed under clause 430
  • Further asbestos is identified at your workplace
  • Asbestos is removed from, disturbed, sealed or enclosed at your workplace

You need to be able to provide assessors, auditors and consultants with fully up to date  registers so they can accurately assess your business, which is why Octfolio will automatically detect which registers require updating, and will automatically schedule and manage the re-inspection process for you.

You can keep track of inspections and regulation changes

Octfolio digital register allows you to view previous and upcoming  inspections, as well as your workplace’s regulations all in one central online database.

You can easily collect field data on asbestos containing materials in your workplace

Octfolio’s field data collection functionality works both online and offline. This means it is possible to record data no matter where it might be. The use of predefined drop down fields and platform-based data collection mechanisms dramatically speeds up the collection of information on site and reduces the potential for human data entry errors. 

You can access automated and accurate reports

Automated reporting allows you to access raw and accurate data. Octfolio also includes a field mobile application that allows the qualified assessors to capture the important information required in the field in real time and send it directly to the centralised online database. This process removes costly data entry errors, ensures continuity of the documentation and recommendations and streamlines the entire reporting process.

You have access to a risk calculator feature

With Octfolio’s risk calculator, you can gain an understanding of potential risks in your workplace. The risk calculator feature utilises highly specialised algorithms to accurately determine the potential risks and consequences by presenting the calculated risk levels for all associated risks in a user-friendly and intuitive manner. 

You can map ACMs across all of your business’ locations

Octfolio allows you to map the global location of all asbestos containing material across your business’ asset portfolio to gain valuable insights. From there, you can easily make informed decisions associated with the management of  inspections and removal programs anywhere in the world.

Why is Octfolio the best software solution for maintaining workplace health and safety?

Octfolio is a simple yet powerful software solution that gives you full control over your work health and safety with asbestos. It contains every function that you need in order to successfully handle all aspects of your business including;

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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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