Safe-Tea Break- Asbestos and Churches

Posted in WHS

Welcome to the third instalment of Safe-Tea Break, the ongoing quest to demystify Work Health Safety. This issue focuses on asbestos, which can be found in many church buildings. 

Despite what is now known about the dangers from this once hailed wonder material, there is still some confusion around how to deal with it.

How do Churches know if they even have it?

Asbestos cannot be reliably identified by observation alone, therefore the only sure way to know is to have it tested in a registered laboratory.  The current WHS Regulations 2012 (and previous OHSW Regulations 1995) require that all workplaces use a competent person to identify where it is likely to be and to collect and arrange for samples to be tested where possible.  As UCA SA is not licensed or insured to undertake any asbestos related work, this must be undertaken by a Licensed Asbestos AssessorThe register of licensed assessors in SA can be found via the SafeWork SA website here: 

What happens if asbestos is found or suspected?

An assessor is required to provide the workplace with an Asbestos Register that contains specific information on the type, location and current condition of the asbestos or suspected asbestos containing material (ACM), as well as provide recommendations on any actions required to ensure the safety of all those who may come in to contact with it.  Where asbestos is found to be present, there is also a requirement for the workplace to produce an Asbestos Management Plan.  In most cases this will require specialist advice and therefore we recommend you request this when gaining quotes from the assessor.  (Some assessors will charge an additional fee for this and some may provide a generic management plan included with the register).

There are 3 main types of asbestos found in many building related products (Amosite Chrysotile ,and Crocidolite, commonly referred to as white, brown and blue asbestos respectively), but what really matters is the condition of the ACM and the ability for the asbestos fibres to become airborne. 

The majority of asbestos used in building materials (such as flat and corrugated roofing or wall boarding) was added to other materials and bonded together.  When regularly inspected, maintained properly and/or left undisturbed, the asbestos is considered ‘Non-Friable’.  ACM that is non-friable does not pose an immediate danger and can generally remain in place unless:

  • it begins to deteriorate; and/or,
  • building renovation works determine it should be removed; and/or,
  • the amount of ACM is small (less than 10 m²) and it can be removed cost effectively and safely by a competent contractor in accordance with the removal of asbestos regulations.

Note: larger quantities (more than 10 m²) of Non-Friable ACM must only be removed by a registered contractor who holds a Class B Asbestos Removal Licence as a minimum.

‘Friable’ asbestos is more dangerous as it poses an immediate threat to the long-term health of persons who come into contact with it.  Friable means that the ACM is already fibrous or it could readily be reduced to a fibrous dust that could then become airborne in measureable quantities.  The following are some common examples of where friable ACM is found in buildings:

  • sprayed asbestos used as a fire retardant
  • insulation in ceilings and thermal lagging such as pipe insulation
  • low density fibreboards and loose or fibrous backing to floor coverings

Because of the greater health risks with friable ACM, removal of friable ACM (in any quantity) can only be undertaken by a registered contractor who holds a Class A Asbestos Removal Licence whilst also undertaking prescribed air-monitoring in the area.

What do congregations need to do?

Church buildings (excluding residential properties) are classed as workplaces for the purposes of this legislation, therefore all UCA SA congregations with the beneficial use of buildings that were constructed, refurbished or extended prior to 2004 are required to undertake the following actions:

  1. Arrange for a registered assessor to visit the site(s) and formulate an Asbestos Register. (We recommend gaining quotes from at least 3 assessors as prices can vary considerably).
  2. Where any ACM is found, arrange for any actions required to be undertaken by an appropriate contractor. (Synod, Senior Buildings & Projects Officer or WHS Coordinator must be contacted prior to any works being undertaken involving asbestos).
  3. Where any ACM remains in the building, arrange for an asbestos management plan to be put in place to ensure the ongoing safety of those who may come into contact with it.
  4. Ensure that the register and any relevant information is made readily available to workers and other persons who would need to know where the ACM is, such as employees, volunteers and contractors. (An appropriate induction must be undertaken with all ‘workers’ and hazards such as asbestos must be included in this).
  5. Forward a copy of the Asbestos Register and Management Plan to Synod Property Services.

What if there is reason to believe that there is NO Asbestos or ACM present?

This can only be determined by a competent person (registered assessor or other appropriately licenced contractor) issuing a ‘Nil Asbestos Statement’ or ‘Asbestos Clearance Certificate’.  (In such cases this must also be forwarded to Synod Property Services).

Can church volunteers undertake removal or other asbestos related works?

No, asbestos related work is strictly regulated and requires the use of appropriately accredited, licensed and insured contractors for such work.

When do registers and management plans need to be reviewed?

The register must be reviewed/updated by a competent person at least once every five years, but also when:

  • the asbestos management plan is reviewed (also at least every five years)
  • further asbestos or ACM is identified at the workplace, or
  • asbestos is removed from or disturbed, sealed or enclosed at the workplace

The dangers from asbestos and the diseases caused by it are well known and therefore it is rightly regulated.  To ensure the ongoing health and safety of all those who use Uniting Church buildings, Church Councils are asked to please ensure that this WHS issue is being addressed as a priority..   

Asbestos or general WHS questions should ring 1300 766 956 or email Wayne Booth, WHS Coordinator


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