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Dos and don'ts for working with asbestos

What safety precautions do I need to take?

If you are carrying out maintenance such as painting or sealing on asbestos cement surfaces without sanding, cutting or drilling (i.e. you are not releasing any asbestos fibres into the air), you only need to take the usual precautions for these activities (such as working in a ventilated area).

However, if you plan to disturb materials in your home that might contain asbestos (such as by sanding, cutting or drilling), it is important to take the proper precautions for handling asbestos to avoid risking your health or the health of your family.

When handling and disposing

DO 

  • wear the appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment contained in this list
  • thoroughly wet down the material before you start and regularly during the work by lightly spraying surfaces with water or a 1:10 polyvinyl acetate (PVA): water solution, or with low-pressure water from a garden hose (if outdoors). Keep the asbestos wet until it is packaged for transport
  • use non-powered hand tools (e.g. a guillotine, hand saw or hand-powered drill) as these generate smaller amounts of dust, and produce waste chips that are coarser than those generated when using power tools
  • pull out any nails first to help remove sheeting with minimal breakage
  • carefully lower (not drop) the sheets to the ground and stack on two layers of polythene sheeting at least 0.2 mm thick (e.g. heavy-duty builders’ plastic)
  • minimise cutting or breaking of the asbestos cement products
  • remove and dispose of personal protective equipment as described in the Clean Up section below
  • shower and wash your hair immediately afterwards and, regardless of whether gloves were used, thoroughly clean your hands and fingernails to remove any dust and asbestos that may be on your body.

DON’T

  • don’t use high-pressure water jets to wet surfaces as this may increase the spread of loose fibres or dust
  • don’t slide one sheet over the surface of another as this may abrade the surface of the materials, and increase the likelihood of releasing fibres and dust
  • don’t use power tools, abrasive cutting or sanding discs, or compressed air on asbestos cement, as these will contribute to airborne dust and debris
  • don’t dry-sand, wire-brush or scrape surfaces to be painted
  • don’t walk on corrugated asbestos cement roofs if it can be avoided — many people have been injured by falling through weathered asbestos cement roofs while attempting to treat or repair the roof surface
  • don’t leave asbestos cement products around the garden, or where they may be broken

When working indoors 

DO

  • isolate the area you are working on from the rest of the building by closing and sealing internal doors
  • isolate the area you are working on from the rest of the building by closing and sealing internal doors
  • leave external doors and windows open to maximise ventilation
  • cover the floor with heavy-duty plastic sheeting to catch dust, debris and offcuts
  • keep household members, visitors and pets away from the area until the work is completed.

DON’T

  • don’t spread asbestos dust through areas of the building that are not protected by plastic sheeting (for example, by walking through unprotected areas)

When working outdoors

DO 

  • inform your neighbours of the proposed work, and advise them to close doors and windows while the work is being undertaken
  • close all windows and doors of your home, and cover air vents to prevent asbestos fibres from entering the building
  • avoid contaminating the soil by covering the ground and vegetation with heavy-duty plastic sheeting to catch dust, debris and offcuts
  • remove play equipment, personal belongings and vehicles from the work area
  • keep household members, visitors and pets away until the work is completed.
 

DON’T

  • don’t wet down roofing sheets if this creates a high risk of slipping off a roof
  • don’t work with asbestos on a windy day.

Clean up

DO 

  • thoroughly clean the work area, tools and equipment as soon as possible after finishing the job
  • clean up any asbestos cement residues in the work area, and on the tools and equipment with wet rags and a wet mop, or with a vacuum cleaner fitted with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter which conforms to Australian Standard AS4260. Attachments with brushes should be avoided because they are difficult to decontaminate
  • double bag and seal any materials used during the decontamination, such as rags and mops for disposal with the other asbestos waste
  • keep dust, debris and offcuts damp with water
  • keep your respirator on.

DON’T

  • don’t remove any materials from the work area until cleaned up as described above
  • don’t clean the work area by dry sweeping or by using a household vacuum cleaner
  • don’t store or reuse asbestos cement sheeting
  • leave asbestos cement products around your home or backyard

Packaging and disposal

DO 

  • keep the material wet until it is packaged
  • carefully package the material, including any offcuts, in two layers of 0.2 mm thick polythene sheeting
  • keep the packages of a manageable size and completely seal them with adhesive tape
  • place smaller sized asbestos waste such as tiles, offcuts and dust in two 0.2 mm thick polythene bags (i.e. double bagged), then tie and seal for disposal with the other asbestos waste
  • only fill bags half full (to minimise the risk of splitting) and gently evacuate excess air in a way that does not cause the release of dust
  • clearly label the packages ‘ASBESTOS WASTE’ using a permanent marker pen
  • as soon as possible, securely transport and dispose of the packages at a designated asbestos waste disposal site in your area.
  • alternatively, hire a special miniskip from a waste removal company to fill with your bagged asbestos waste and have it collected by the waste company (see the Yellow Pages for companies that specialise in asbestos waste removal)

DON’T

  • don’t dispose of asbestos waste in a domestic garbage bin or rubbish skip
  • don’t reuse or recycle asbestos waste
  • don’t dump asbestos waste illegally
  • don’t dispose of asbestos during council ‘hard rubbish’ collections.

Removing personal protective equipment

DO 

  • carefully peel off coveralls, hat and gloves
  • immediately seal all these items in two 0.2 mm thick (heavy-duty) polythene bags (double bagged) and clearly label to identify the contents as described above in ‘Packaging and disposal of asbestos’
  • dispose of these bags with the other asbestos waste
  • wash or wipe reusable footwear using wet rags
  • leave the respirator on until the contaminated clothing is removed, bagged and sealed, then dispose of the respirator by doubling bagging it as described above.

DON'T

  • don’t keep or recycle disposable protective equipment; for example, don’t attempt to shake the dust out of overalls or clean the items with a vacuum cleaner
  • don’t launder or clean gloves — the asbestos removal and laundering process causes physical damage or deterioration of the gloves.