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Uncovering hidden asbestos with destructive HazMat surveys

28 March 2022

Asbestos insulation (“Mr Fluffy”) may be a case where a destructive survey is required. Image © Greencap

Construction sites, power stations and urgent development sites rely on rapid turnaround times. That’s where the Greencap on-site NATA Accredited laboratory comes in. The quick efficiency of the mobile laboratory means that clients are able to get the sample results for asbestos in a swift turnaround time. As soon as the sample is collected, it can be analysed on site with verbal results given in minutes, depending on the characteristics of the sample. 


What is the difference between a destructive and compliance HazMat survey? 

Demolition codes of practice, relevant to all states, will let the interested party know the requirements if a destructive or compliance HazMat survey is needed. 

The difference between a destructive survey and a compliance survey is that destructive sampling techniques allow the surveyor to find hazardous materials before the site (such as a shopping centre de-fit) is demolished or refurbished. Done prior to the demolition, destructive surveys mean that more intrusive methods, such as walls being removed or carpet and tiles lifted up, can be conducted in a safe and controlled manner so that the potential hazard can be identified.  

Compliance surveys cannot undergo the same destructive techniques, as this damages the cosmetic appearance, as well as potentially affects the structural integrity of buildings. Sometimes, destructive surveys are necessary due to asbestos and hazardous materials being concealed deep in the building, such as under layers of floor coverings or behind wall cavities. In older structures, builders would construct layers of ceilings or walls over the top of the original. Finding all possible areas that contain asbestos or hazardous material is imperative when undertaking a destructive survey, as this mitigates the risk of potential exposure and contamination. 

Identifying hazards in a destructive survey 

Complying with state-based Work Health and Safety (WHS) codes of practice respectively (such as the NSW Code of Practice – Demolition Work), the objective of a destructive survey is to identify as far as reasonably practicable, all the asbestos without the access constraints of a compliance survey. This means that the demolition or construction team coming in after the survey is completed can work more safely and be at a lower overall risk of encountering or disturbing asbestos or other hazardous materials.

It is estimated that 1 in 3 Australian homes built before 1990 still contain asbestos. This hazardous material can be found in obvious places, such as insulation (pictured above), or more concealed places that would not normally be found on an audit, unless the destructive technique was used. 

Learn in depth about asbestos labelling and signage requirements and more in Greencap's Online Asbestos Awareness Training course


Case Study - Reducing the risks of asbestos by any means possible 

Gaining access to the exterior of this building in the Sydney CBD (Exterior, Behind Northern external concrete façades) was vital. 

The client wished to conduct concrete repairs on the external concrete façades of the site. Friable, unsealed asbestos-containing rope sat behind the façade. 

An exclusion zone was established using barrier tape and signage in place.


Two Licensed Asbestos Removal Contractors (LARC) were suspended by ropes to allow access to the façades.

A specified dry decontamination zone was established at the roof level perimeter to allow appropriate decontamination procedures to be undertaken post asbestos encapsulation/seal works.

The exposed areas of the asbestos-containing rope from sections of the exterior façade were vacuumed using a H-class vacuum cleaner fitted with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. The exposed areas were then sealed with a suitable asbestos sealant. 

The harnesses, abseil ropes, working-at-heights helmets and associated rope access equipment was wet-wiped down and stored into 200 µm thick polythene asbestos waste bags for later use in asbestos-related work. These bags were taken off-site by the LARC to be stored at their facility.

A visual clearance inspection was undertaken by Greencap as issued by SafeWork NSW, after the completion of the encapsulation works.

At the time of Greencap’s review of images and video obtained by the LARC, the three areas were encapsulated and sealed to a suitable industry standard. There was no visible asbestos residue remaining in the immediate surrounding areas as a result of the asbestos encapsulation.

How Greencap can help 

Greencap has built a wealth of experience and expertise since its beginning as an asbestos consultancy in 1984. Partnering with clients, Greencap assists in the development of a range of systems and risk control strategies to meet compliance requirements, provide effective solutions to manage asbestos and identify hazardous materials risk issues in the workplace. 

Greencap can assist with a wide range of tasks with your project, from the initial identification of hazardous materials, through to risk assessment/management advice, project management of removal works and air monitoring/clearances.

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