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The fact that asbestos was a commonly used construction material in Australia between the 1940s and 1990s is still relevant today. Some buildings that may still contain asbestos were built or renovated before 1990.

This includes commercial buildings that were built up to 2003. As such, confirming that such facilities do not contain asbestos is essential to reduce or avoid the health risks of asbestos exposure. You should also know what to expect during a commercial asbestos removal project.

Here, we will discuss the importance of safe asbestos removal, workplace asbestos management, and what to expect from asbestos removalists. You can also learn more about how long removing asbestos takes and how long it takes to recycle asbestos.

Chances Your Building Contains Asbestos

Asbestos-containing products were widespread in the construction industry until the nationwide ban in 2003. Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were popular because of the physical properties of asbestos, including sound absorption, fire retardation, and heat stress resistance. As such, asbestos was used as a critical constituent in many construction materials.

There is a chance that ACMs installed before 1999 can pose a risk of asbestos contamination during asbestos removal. Examples of ACMs include the following:

  • Cement sheeting
  • Floor tiles
  • Asbestos roofs
  • Plaster walls
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Asbestos insulation

Importance of Safe Asbestos Removal

Disturbed asbestos fibres can pose a significant health risk. Such disturbances can occur during building renovations, demolitions, or even during asbestos removal. These released or disturbed asbestos fibres pose serious environmental health hazards. Asbestos exposure can result in diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

Therefore, it is a health safety precaution to ensure that all asbestos is safely removed before commencing any demolition or refurbishment work. In other words, you must safely remove asbestos as a preparatory step for commercial site demolitions.

You also need an asbestos survey report and subsequent safe asbestos removal (if necessary) in compliance with laws and regulations for buildings undergoing demolition or renovation.

Besides, building departments do not generally issue permits if you do not complete an asbestos survey. Likewise, commercial real estate sellers and buyers may request both an asbestos survey and a lead survey (for lead-based paints, for example).

Asbestos Safety in the Workplace

Everyone must know their roles to ensure a successful commercial asbestos removal project.

Workplace asbestos management

Asbestos management includes identifying, testing, and removing potential asbestos-containing products. Each state in Australia has a Work Health and Safety legislation that regulates asbestos management.

With this legislation, a person conducting a business or undertaking has a workplace responsibility to comply with legislative requirements of asbestos management. These regulations include federal laws regarding the handling and disposal of asbestos waste, the Work Health and Safety Act, and the Codes of Practice: How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace.

There are approaches that you can implement when managing asbestos in the workplace. You can take some environmental protection steps, and you can take steps to protect human health. For instance, you can consult with licensed asbestos removalists on processes for managing asbestos wastes.

Who is responsible for asbestos management?

Commercial building owners and virtually everyone in the construction industry have legal roles to play when managing asbestos in workplaces.

However, the following people are responsible for proper asbestos management in commercial sites:

  • Commercial property owners
  • Work supervisors
  • Contractor
  • Facility managers

Asbestos management plans

Workplaces containing asbestos must prepare and maintain good asbestos management plans for naturally occurring and manufactured asbestos. Such plans have to include the following:

  • Location of the asbestos register
  • Safe work procedures
  • Control measures
  • Proper signage and labelling of areas that contain asbestos
  • Emergency procedures
  • Asbestos safety training, consultations, and work logs of workers performing asbestos removal or asbestos-related work
  • Schedule for reviewing the asbestos management plan at least once every five years
  • The plan must be made available upon request by a workplace Health and Safety Representative (HSR) 
  • Measures for asbestos removal, sealing, or enclosure as necessary

Asbestos registers

Your asbestos register must outline the following:

  • The location of asbestos or potential asbestos
  • Type of asbestos
  • Condition of asbestos

Note: You also have an obligation to make the asbestos register readily available to those likely to be exposed to asbestos. Likewise, it would be best if you kept it up to date.

Asbestos awareness training

It is a requirement for those working or who are likely to work with asbestos to undergo asbestos awareness training. In this way, such staff can become more aware of the dangers of asbestos removal and disposal, what precautions to take, proper health monitoring, the Freedom of Information Act, Safe Work Australia guidelines, and how to recognise naturally occurring asbestos and other forms of asbestos.

They can also get relevant information on managing asbestos in disasters or emergencies and how to use personal protective equipment. If you provide the training, you should ensure that safety information and training are in a language and vocabulary that workers can understand.

If you are an employee, your employer needs to provide adequate asbestos awareness training if you work where there is a risk of asbestos exposure. You should have up-to-date environmental information and other information relating to such work.

The role of health and safety representatives

You must have competent personnel to manage health and safety issues related to work-related asbestos risks and ACMs. They can help guide asbestos management, including health risks, regulatory duties, management of asbestos waste, and asbestos disposal.

Types of Asbestos

The two types of asbestos include friable and non-friable asbestos. Friable asbestos is usually asbestos that is in powder form. You can easily crumble or pulverise it by hand pressure. Non-friable asbestos has asbestos fibres that are tightly bound (bonded asbestos). You can find them in products like asbestos cement sheeting.

Identifying asbestos

The best way to confirm that a material contains asbestos is to test an asbestos sample in a NATA-accredited laboratory. The prestigious National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited facility conducts asbestos testing and is formally recognised as a facility that produces reliable technical results.

You can get a list of NATA-accredited facilities on the NATA website. Your safest approach is to consider suspected asbestos as asbestos until test results from NATA-accredited laboratories confirm otherwise.

Meanwhile, the strongest recommendation is to use only a licensed professional to collect asbestos samples for testing. This is because the asbestos testing process may involve professional activities such as a thorough visual inspection of affected building spaces such as confined spaces and ceiling spaces.

What to Expect from Asbestos Removalists

  • Your asbestos removalist should have well-trained asbestos removal licence holders for asbestos removal projects.
  • They need to follow all relevant Codes of practice for working with asbestos.
  • You should also expect them to keep to all Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws, including identifying asbestos and safely handling it.
  • A licensed asbestos removalist will use recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) and tools.
  • They will perform an initial scope of your asbestos removal project.
  • You can depend on them to obtain representative samples and conduct sampling analysis in a NATA-accredited Laboratory
  • They will prepare documents and issue a final clearance certificate.

Services to expect from asbestos removalists

  • Air monitoring by licensed asbestos assessors
  • Pre-Demolition Inspection
  • Risk Assessments
  • Asbestos inspections, Testing & Identification

What to Expect During Asbestos Removal

There are regulatory requirements that building owners and managers need to follow when removing asbestos-containing materials.

  • Your local government authority requires a permit before you can demolish your commercial site.
  • Completion of a risk assessment and a professional check for hazardous materials, asbestos, and other hazards is also needed.
  • You need to notify those who may be affected by the process of your asbestos removal or site demolition plans and timeframe.
  • You should have an asbestos register if your building was constructed before 2004.
  • Your asbestos removalist or contractor must access the asbestos register before working.
  • A licensed assessor will inspect and confirm asbestos if you think you have asbestos in the workplace.
  • ACMs in good condition are usually low risk and may be left alone.
  • Only licensed removalists should perform asbestos removals. They should also be certified and adequately insured.

How Long Does Removing Asbestos Take?

The process of removing asbestos can take up to a week or more. This, however, depends on the size and complexity of your project.

Handling asbestos cement and waste

  • Asbestos cement sheeting was popularly used as building materials from the 1940s until the late 1980s. Here are some do’s and don’ts when performing any work or maintenance on asbestos cement.
  • Ensure your work area is ventilated if you are not performing activities such as cutting or drilling asbestos cement surfaces that release asbestos fibres.
  • Minimise activities that involve cutting or breaking asbestos cement products as much as possible.
  • Always keep asbestos wet until you package it for transporting and disposal.
  • Avoid using power tools, compressed air, sanding discs, or abrasive cutting on asbestos cement. This will help lower the risk of releasing asbestos dust.
  • You can use a vacuum cleaner with a Dust Class H HEPA filter (that conforms to Australian Standard AS4260) to clean up asbestos cement residues on tools, equipment, and the work area.
  • You need to double bag and seal rags, mops, and other materials used during the decontamination for disposal with other asbestos waste.
  • It is safer not to reuse or store asbestos cement sheeting.
  • Use a permanent marker pen to label relevant packages ‘ASBESTOS WASTE clearly.’
  • Be as prompt as you can in securely transporting and disposing of asbestos waste at licensed asbestos waste disposal sites.

Asbestos recycling

  • Your asbestos removalist may possibly turn asbestos products into non-toxic products such as glass or porcelain.
  • They may transport other non-hazardous end products of the recycling process to regular landfills.
  • Alternatively, such end products may serve as packing materials, concrete aggregate, or construction materials.

Get Help from Commercial Asbestos Removalists

This blog post has considered what to expect during a commercial asbestos removal project. You also know more about asbestos safety, asbestos registers, and services to expect from asbestos removalists.

Asbestos removal is not a task that you should DIY. This is especially applicable if you are dealing with friable asbestos. It is best to hire a professional asbestos removalist to handle all aspects of your asbestos removal project safely.