Asbestos tracking software lets NT schools breathe easier

A newly launched software system is letting public schools quickly update their asbestos register

A new centralised information management system is being deployed to help maintain asbestos registries as an audit is conducted of government-run Northern Territory schools.

Seventy-three out 75 public schools in the territory have buildings that are known to contain asbestos.

"As we all know, [builders] were supposed to stop using asbestos in the mid '80s, but they kept using the product until they ran out or had pressure put on them to stop using it," said Kevin Anderson, a project manager for Building Services at the NT's Department of Infrastructure.

Buildings that were completed before 31 December, 2003, may contain asbestos, Anderson said. Mostly of the asbestos is non-fibrous, though some buildings contain the more dangerous friable or fibrous asbestos. Inhalation of asbestos can have deadly consequences, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Details of asbestos and any asbestos-removal work at schools are maintained in a hardcopy register that contractors carrying out building or maintenance works need to familiarise themselves with before any construction or refurbishment takes place.

Queensland-headquartered engineering and environmental consulting firm OCTIEF won a $763,000 territory government tender in January to carry out a full asbestos audit in public schools and put an electronic register system in place and maintain it for 12 months.

To maintain the centralised register, a newly released software system – OCTFOLIO – is being used.

"It's bringing the old, cumbersome hard copy asbestos register up to today's standard in regards to making an electronic copy so we can update it easily, and keep track of the asbestos removal," Anderson said.

Although the system allows for centralised tracking of known asbestos in schools, hardcopy registers must still be maintained for inducting builders before works are undertaken. Additionally, Anderson said that an alert system lets schools know when their register is due for auditing.

"Every year you're supposed to do an audit on your registers, then every five years it's got to be audited by people who are trained to be able to identify asbestos," he said.

Schools will be able to update their registers quickly and then produce a hardcopy based on the central database, Anderson said. "So contractors coming in [to the school] when they sign in, they are actually indicating that they've viewed the asbestos register and they're pretty confident it's up to speed and up to date."

"When you remove the asbestos-containing material, and there are many, many forms of it, you can now update the register straight away. That's the main thing – with the old, manual system it just was too hard for people to keep it up to date."

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