Asbestos hygienist: What's that?

asbestos hygienist sydney

You may have seen the phrase “asbestos hygienist” used to describe a person who conducts asbestos surveys, audits or inspections.

So what is an “asbestos hygienist”? Is it something different from an asbestos inspector, asbestos assessor, or asbestos consultant? If you suspect you have asbestos in your workplace, or if you need help creating an asbestos register and asbestos management plan, should you be looking for an asbestos hygienist, or someone else?

It does get confusing that there are all these different terms for people who work with asbestos. The main thing to bear in mind is that if you think you have an asbestos problem, the person you want to talk to is the one with the most knowledge, experience and accreditation in the field of asbestos. Their job title doesn’t matter so much! At Airsafe, we’re the most experienced asbestos people in the business, so call us first. If you need to speak to someone else (like a qualified asbestos removalist, we’ll let you know and recommend someone you can rely on.

As for “asbestos hygienist” this is not a term we generally use internally at Airsafe, but we do hear it in conversation. When people use the term “asbestos hygienist”, what they seem to be asking for is an asbestos specialist within the overall discipline of occupational hygiene.

Occupational hygiene and asbestos

Occupational hygiene is a broad discipline dealing with all kinds of workplace hazards that might cause injury or illness. The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) promotes and represents the occupational hygiene profession within Australia. Occupational hygienists divide these hazards into five categories: biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic, and psychosocial.

What this means in practice is that occupational hygienists need some level of knowledge in a huge number of different areas. Occupational hygienists deal with everything from mould to airborne diseases to dangerous chemicals to excessive noise or heat.

At Airsafe, we’re experts in all kinds of workplace hazards, so part of our commercial offering is a full range of occupational hygiene services. But when it comes to asbestos, we hand over to our specialist asbestos consultants.

Outside of Airsafe, occupational hygienists certainly can have a role to play in the asbestos identification process. This makes sense, since asbestos can certainly be an occupational hazard if it’s not dealt with properly. So, for instance, WorkCover’s Code of Practice How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace lists the following as “Persons who may be considered to be competent in the identification of asbestos”:

  • occupational hygienists who have experience with asbestos
  • licensed asbestos assessors
  • asbestos removal supervisors
  • individuals who have a statement of attainment in the unit competency for asbestos assessors
  • a person working for an organisation accredited by NATA under AS/NZS ISO/IEC 17020:2000 General criteria for the operation of various types of bodies performing inspection for surveying asbestos

When people use the phrase “asbestos hygienist”, they’re really talking about the first of these categories, “occupational hygienists who have experience with asbestos”.

But, however much experience an occupational hygienist has with asbestos, given a choice, it’s always better to talk to someone who is specialised in asbestos. Asbestos comes in so many different types, appears in so many different places, and requires so many different kinds of treatment, that it really is a speciality in itself. We can’t imagine that somebody who deals with asbestos as one of a range of other workplace issues could have the same amount of expertise as someone who deals with asbestos every single day.

Incidentally, we’d say the same thing about generalist Risk Management consultants…only more so. If your field of expertise is something as broad as “risk”, you may not be the right person to be drawing up detailed plans on how to deal with something as complex and technical as asbestos.

With asbestos, accreditation is more important than job title

That’s why Airsafe’s clients like dealing with us…they know that we’re some of the most experienced specialised asbestos consultants in the business. In fact, we’re specifically accredited for our expertise in asbestos. This means that our expertise goes beyond what a generalist occupational hygienist can offer, even if they refer to themself as an “asbestos hygienist”.

Our most important accreditation comes from NATA, the National Association of Testing Authorities. Don’t think of NATA accreditation as a rubber stamp: it’s very hard to come by, and it’s given only to the most experienced businesses which pass a rigorous assessment process. Many Australian businesses which advertise asbestos services don’t have NATA accreditation. Even those that do aren’t necessarily accredited for the full range of asbestos-related activities, as Airsafe is. (Don’t take our word for it: you can see Airsafe’s full NATA accreditation details on the NATA website.)

A second way in which Airsafe’s consultants are officially recognised as asbestos experts is with “Licensed Asbestos Assessor” accreditation from WorkCover NSW. Since July 2013, Licensed Asbestos Assessors have been required to conduct air quality monitoring and clearance inspections, and to issue asbestos clearance certificates, during all friable asbestos removal works in NSW. Because of Airsafe’s acknowledged expertise, our 30 years of experience, and our excellent reputation in the industry, all of our consultants have been recognised by WorkCover as Licensed Asbestos Assessors.

To sum up: there’s no special accreditation that anyone needs to describe themselves as an “Asbestos Hygienist”. Although Occupational Hygienists may have experience with asbestos, we always recommend engaging a specialised asbestos consultant when you think you may be dealing with asbestos. After all, it’s about keeping your employees and the general public safe, and avoiding potentially catastrophic legal action in the future.

And if you’re looking for a specialised asbestos consultant in Sydney, Airsafe are among the most knowledgeable and experienced in the business, and we have the industry accreditations to prove it. To get help with asbestos, give us a call on (02) 9555 9034.

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