CETEC , which offers risk management of asbestos and other hazardous material in buildings, has provided a four-step guideline to managing asbestos materials in the work environment.

The stages of management, according to CETEC, are awareness, identification, evaluation and risk control.

In the awareness stage, and in what CETEC says is a best case scenario, maintenance and building workers and their employers need to have sufficient training and knowledge of where asbestos materials have typically been used and found in the past in other similar buildings of similar age. Management must also have plans and a historical record of building works conducted in the past to provide valuable information on possible risk locations or types.

But where the available historical information is inadequate, the identification of the likely presence or absence of an asbestos hazard is best handled by appropriately trained persons undertaking a hazard audit. The hazard audit involves the identification, evaluation and recommended control of all the identified risks (not just asbestos).

When the existence of a hazard is recognised, an atmosphere of open consultation between management, workers, parents and employees is the best starting point leading to a technically sound solution which also manages expectations and minimises undue concerns.

After awareness comes identification, says CETEC. Considerable care and persistence is needed to locate all possible occurrences of asbestos. Sampling must be done by trained specialists. Both qualitative and quantitative analysis must be performed to identify the asbestos type and overall potential risk level.

After identification, the specialists will assess the extent of the hazard in the evaluation phase. Factors such as material condition/damage, friability, accessibility, air plenum, asbestos content, asbestos type, binding material and existing airborne fibre levels must be assessed in order to recommend proper corrective actions. Ensuring legislative requirements are met is another important element.

Finally, the risk control stage determines what action is required. According to CETEC, there are four paths to follow in dealing with the asbestos risk.

Deferred action, which is appropriate when there is negligible risk potential, but requires considerable management and custodial care.

Enclosure, which requires an impervious barrier surrounding the asbestos material. Construction of the enclosure itself can generate raised fibre levels and thus the need to carefully monitor such works.

Encapsulation or sealing, which are appropriate if the asbestos (i.e. insulation) is in good condition and can be thoroughly penetrated by the encapsulant. This option should not be employed as a long-term protection nor in areas where access is required.

Removal is highly effective in protecting workers and occupants from elevated levels of asbestos fibres. However, this requires an expertly planned, independent and continuous monitoring program during the asbestos removal.

CETEC emphasises that asbestos is not be the only building material hazard, and that A concurrent Total Hazard Assessment should always be considered when asbestos is under review.