Safety alert over asbestos in external and internal render

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Sunday, 5 February, 2023 - 12:30
Policy & legislation
Northern Territory

NT WorkSafe recently issued a safety alert about the importance of asbestos testing before commencing work in older buildings, following two incidents in Darwin where asbestos has been found in locations not expected by workers.

Asbestos was used in over 3000 products and can be found in many buildings and structures built or renovated before 1990 in the Northern Territory. Testing by a NATA-approved laboratory is the only way to confirm the presence of asbestos.

In the first incident, contractors engaged to demolish an old commercial building conducted sampling and asbestos testing before they commenced work.

A sample of the building's external cement renders returned positive for asbestos despite the external render not being listed as a location for asbestos in the building's asbestos register.

Additional sampling and testing of the external render from around the building all returned positive results.

In the second incident, contractors renovating a residential house drilled into a concrete ceiling that had a vermiculite coating. Vermiculite is a spray-on textured ceiling finish popularly used in the 1970s to early 80s.

Asbestos has previously been found in some vermiculite. The concerned homeowner had a licensed asbestos assessor test the vermiculite which returned positive for asbestos. At least six workers and the homeowner have potentially been exposed to asbestos fibres.

The alert said there were two possible contributing factors to the incidents:

  • The asbestos register for the commercial building did not list the external render as containing asbestos as the person creating the register may not have sampled and tested the render as they didn’t think it would contain asbestos.
  • The contractors renovating the residential house did not think the vermiculite coating would contain asbestos and did not sample and test it. Not all vermiculite contains asbestos.

The alert subsequently recommended a number of required actions:

  • All businesses and workers contracted to work on buildings built or renovated before 1990, should follow the How to manage and control asbestos in the workplace Code of Practice.

  • It is recommended that a licenced asbestos removalist or licensed asbestos assessor be engaged to assist with the identification, sampling and testing of potential asbestos and asbestos-containing material in the work area before work commences.

  • Products or materials, that could be asbestos, likely to be disturbed by your works, that are not listed in the asbestos register, should be treated as asbestos until testing confirms otherwise.