Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws prohibit work involving asbestos except in specific circumstances where you are required to follow strict safety rules.

During demolition or refurbishment work, there can be many duty holders that have specific obligations under the Work health and Safety Act 2012 (SA)(WHS Act). Duties under the WHS Act are non-transferable. A person may have more than one duty and more than one person can have the same duty. However, in that case, each person must discharge the duty to the extent the person has the capacity to influence and control the matter.

A refurbishment/demolition survey safety checklist is available to help you to step through an asbestos survey.

Asbestos registers

A typical workplace asbestos register assists in managing the risk of asbestos during normal use of an occupied workplace or an item of plant. The asbestos register is intended to ensure workers and others in the workplace are aware of the presence of asbestos, so they do not accidently disturb it.

The person with management or control of a workplace must ensure that the business who carries out the demolition or refurbishment is given a copy of the asbestos register before the demolition or refurbishment is commenced.

If you are a business who carries out demolition or refurbishment at a workplace and you have not been given a copy of the asbestos register, ask for it. Do not commence work until you have reviewed the asbestos register.

It is not uncommon for asbestos to be missed during the creation of the asbestos register. During demolition or refurbishment, it will be considered reasonably practicable for the person with management or control of the workplace to carry out what’s known as a ‘demolition/refurbishment survey’.

The person engaged to undertake the demolition or refurbishment work must ensure that asbestos that is likely to be disturbed is identified and, so far as is reasonably practicable, removed prior to demolition or refurbishment commencing.

The WHS Regulations allow for the demolition of part of a structure or plant in order to access in-situ asbestos so it can be removed. For example, part of a wall may be demolished to access asbestos located in the wall cavity so it can be removed prior to further demolition.

Keeping people informed

If you have been engaged to undertake demolition or refurbishment work at a residential dwelling, this becomes a workplace when you commence work. An asbestos register is not required for residential dwellings, so you must ensure an inspection is undertaken for the presence of asbestos by a competent person.

A competent person is a person who has acquired thorough training, qualification or experience, the knowledge and skills to carry out the task.

You must assume asbestos is present if the competent person, based on reasonable grounds, is uncertain whether asbestos is fixed or installed, or part of the structure or plant is inaccessible and likely to be disturbed

If asbestos is assumed to be present, you must inform:

  • the occupier of the premises and the owner of the premises (for residential premises)
  • the person with management or control of the workplace (for all other premises).­ ­

Demolition/refurbishment surveys

The duty to review and revise an asbestos register lies with the person with management or control of the workplace. Duty holders may include building owners, building management, principal contractors, builders etc. If it is found that the register is inadequate in regard to the proposed demolition or refurbishment, it must be revised. The outcome of this revision could be the engagement of a licensed asbestos removalist and licensed asbestos assessor where a licensed quantity of asbestos has been identified.

A demolition/refurbishment survey may include extensive sampling and testing of materials for asbestos because parts of buildings or plant, including those which might normally be inaccessible, are likely to be disturbed by the demolition or refurbishment work. The demolition or refurbishment survey could also be used to identify other hazardous workplace chemicals, for example lead, polychlorinated biphenyls and synthetic mineral fibres.

The person engaged to undertake the survey should be given the asbestos register, site layout, building plans, building specifications or architect's drawings, and any history of asbestos work, if known.

A demolition or refurbishment survey helps to ensure that:

  • nobody will be harmed by asbestos
  • such work will be done by the right contractor in the right way
  • the risk of cost variation is minimised.

In some cases the assumed asbestos, after analysis, can return negative for asbestos content, resulting in cost savings.

Sample analysis for the presence of asbestos must be undertaken by a NATA laboratory accredited for the relevant test method. A positive test result by a non-NATA lab is seen as a confirmation of an assumption only. Only official NATA negative results are accepted by SafeWork SA.

A refurbishment/demolition survey safety checklist is available to help you to step through an asbestos survey.

Engaging asbestos licence holders

For a licensable quantity of asbestos removal, the person who commissions the asbestos removal work must ensure the asbestos removalist holds the correct licence to carry out the work.

There are two types of asbestos removal licences:

  • friable asbestos - Class A
  • non-friable (bonded) asbestos - Class B

Although an asbestos removal licence is not required for the removal of less than 10 square metres of non-friable (bonded) asbestos, the standard of safety methods used must not be compromised.

A register of licensed asbestos removalists can be found on the Safe Work SA website.

It is also the duty of the person who commissions the asbestos removal work to ensure that an independent licensed asbestos assessor undertakes air monitoring of the asbestos removal area at the workplace during removal, and carries out a clearance inspection when the licensed asbestos removal work is completed.

The requirement for independence assures the person who commissions the work receives results to confirm that all the asbestos has been removed and that it is safe for re-occupancy. It also gives integrity to the asbestos removal industry and provides a greater level of workplace and public safety.

A clearance certificate must be issued before the asbestos removal area at the workplace is re-occupied.

To engage a licensed asbestos assessor for other duties i.e. asbestos identification, demolition/refurbishment surveys etc. you must ensure they are competent at this type of activity as the assessor licence only covers air monitoring and clearance inspections.

A register of licensed asbestos assessors can be found on the Safe Work SA website.

Duty to inform others

As the person with management or control of a workplace you must ensure the following persons are informed when asbestos removal work is to be carried out at the workplace, before the work commences:

  • your workers and any other persons at the workplace
  • the person who commissioned the asbestos removal work.

You must also take all reasonable steps to ensure that the following persons are informed:

  • anyone conducting a business or undertaking at, or in the immediate vicinity of, the workplace
  • anyone occupying premises in the immediate vicinity of the workplace.

Safe Work Method Statements

Asbestos removal is High Risk Construction Work (HRCW) and therefore you will need to develop a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS).

A SWMS is a document that sets out the HRCW activities to be carried out at a workplace, the hazards arising from these activities and the measures to be put in place to control the associated risks.

The principle purpose of a SWMS is to assist supervisors, workers and other parties at a workplace to understand the requirements that have been established, through consultation, to work in a safe way.

Further information

Management and Control of Asbestos in the Workplace – Code of Practice

How to safely remove asbestos – Code of Practice

Asbestos - Addendum in relation to air monitoring