How To Identify Asbestos

May 21, 2022

Sebastian Tiller

How To Identify Asbestos: Identifying Asbestos at Home and in the Workplace

There are many reasons why it is important to know how to identify asbestos, particularly in the workplace. Businesses are obligated to meet their asbestos compliance requirements in order to provide the safest possible environment for their employees. 

But, how do you go about identifying asbestos? It is an important process to perform correctly, which is why we’ve written this article to explain what asbestos is, how you identify asbestos, and what you need to do after you have identified asbestos.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral consisting of heat resistant flexible fibres. These qualities made the mineral useful in construction, being used in Australian buildings for approximately half a century. In fact, Australia had the highest use of asbestos per capita, that’s how popular asbestos was. 

However, asbestos exposure is highly toxic, making this substance hazardous to human exposure. As a result, it was phased out of construction, and measures have been taken since to ensure that it is identified and removed safely.

When workers handle asbestos-containing materials in an unsafe manner, fibres can be released into the air. When inhaled, these fibres become trapped deep in the lungs, which causes extensive damage to the airways.

What does asbestos look like?

While there are various forms of asbestos that have their own unique physical attributes, all forms of asbestos are invisible to the naked eye. Asbestos fibres can be 50 to 200 times thinner than a human hair and look different depending on the materials it is mixed with.

Because of this, asbestos can only be identified through the use of 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.

Where am I likely to identify asbestos?

Because asbestos was used so heavily in construction, there are various locations in a building that have the potential to still 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

How do I identify asbestos?

As you can’t determine asbestos on sight, it’s recommended that you follow the golden rule of if you think there’s asbestos, treat it like there is

If you suspect there may be asbestos in a section of your building, it is a good idea to get that area assessed. If you are going to conduct repairs or renovations that could potentially displace asbestos containing materials, it is incredibly important that you contact a licensed asbestos assessor to ensure everyone's safety beforehand.

What do I do if I have identified asbestos?

Once it has been confirmed that there is asbestos in your workplace, there are steps that you need to take in order to mitigate any danger and make the environment safe for your employees:

  1. (If you haven’t already) appoint a coordinator to oversee the management of asbestos.
  2. The coordinator must prepare a register that includes all identified areas, both accessible and inaccessible.
  3. Work with your coordinator to eliminate, enclose or seal identified asbestos.
  4. Implement a system that informs those that attend the workplace (such as employees and contractors) where asbestos is located and may be disturbed.
  5. Label asbestos containing assets wherever practical.
    • Brief employees on the labelling so they are aware
  6. 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.

This will ensure the asbestos compliance of your workplace, as the presence of asbestos does not threaten the safety of your employees.

What is the best way to manage identified asbestos assets in my workplace?

Octfolio is a simple yet comprehensive asbestos software solution that lets you control the management of your asbestos assets. It contains every function that you need in order to successfully handle all aspects of asbestos management services, including;

See Octfolio in action

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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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