Working with Asbestos cement
This advice applies to businesses and private householders.
What is asbestos cement?
Asbestos cement is a mixture of cement and asbestos. This is usually about 10-15% of the total product, forming a hard material. It is often used as corrugated roofing on sheds, garages and farms. It was also used to make drainpipes, flues, water tanks and other products.
Asbestos cement usually contains white asbestos (chrysotile). Older types may contain blue (crocidolite) or brown (amosite). The type used is not really important. All asbestos is hazardous, although asbestos cement does not release many fibres and is relatively low risk.
Please take the hazard seriously. Remember that the irreversible effects of asbestos exposure can take between 15 and 60 years to develop.
Asbestos use declined steadily from the 1970s. White asbestos (chrysotile) could still be used until November 1999. It can be found in some relatively new buildings.
Do asbestos cement products have to be removed?
No, asbestos cement products are very durable and are likely to last for many years. However, if they need to be removed, this can be done without a licence or specialist firm. Care must be taken to minimise any fibre release.
Business owners have a legal duty to manage any asbestos in their premises. This includes monitoring the condition of asbestos cement. A cement product may need to be removed if it is in very poor condition, breaking up, or needs uneconomical repair.
Householders do not have the same duties, although they are required to follow the procedures for safe disposal.
See guidance on removing asbestos cement (PDF) on HSE website.
I have an asbestos cement roof that is covered in moss, grass and lichen. Will this cause a problem?
This often happens to asbestos cement. It can eventually cause it to become brittle and break up. It is a good idea to keep the roof clear. Care must be taken to do it in a way that doesn't damage the surface and release fibres.
The only way that is recommended is to apply a commercially available biocide. When it has had time to act, apply water with a hose (not a jet wash!) and gently brush the moss off. You should never attempt to brush the moss off dry, or use a wire brush.
If any lichen or moss roots prove difficult to remove, it is better to leave them to avoid damaging the roof.
How should asbestos cement be removed? Can I do this work myself?
For most small scale removals, you can usually remove it yourself. A licence is not needed. You will need to take some precautions.
If removal of asbestos cement is done according to these rules, it will not usually fall into the category where it must be notified to the enforcing authority (HSE or Local Authority, depending on the premises). This would only happen if there was likely to be exposure beyond the "action level" given in the Regulations.
Please remember that this advice only applies to asbestos cement. Other asbestos materials are more dangerous. You should not attempt to remove them without specialist advice.
To minimise any risk of releasing fibres:
- Avoid breaking the sheets. Try to remove them whole.
- Dampen the sheets before working, in case any pieces break off while you are working. You may need to do this more than once. The best precaution is to carry out the task on a drizzly day! Do not use excessive amounts of water. This makes cleaning up more difficult.
- Don't use power tools or hand saws, they will cause fibres to be released.
- Don't drop the sheets down to the ground, they are likely to break. Hand them down to someone who is helping you.
Other safety precautions include:
- Wear a disposable dust mask. The mask must be to P3 standard or it won't be effective against asbestos. These are very cheap, at around £1.50 to £7.99 for a disposable mask.
- Wear disposable overalls with a hood (class 5) costing from £3.00, a pair and wellingtons, or some other footwear that can be washed down. There are many suppliers. Try the yellow pages, or an internet search.
- Asbestos cement is a fragile material and is not weight-bearing. Never go onto it without crawling boards. This should not be necessary when removing sheets.
- If you are working from a ladder, ensure it is in good condition. Ensure that you have someone to help by steadying the foot of the ladder. If the location is very high, awkward, or the job is likely to take a long time, it may be safer to hire a portable tower scaffold for the duration of the work.
So how do I actually go about removing the asbestos cement?
Follow these steps:
- Prepare your work area. Remove anything that doesn't need to be there. Cover the ground or other surfaces with polythene that can be disposed of later. Ensure you have enough heavy duty bags or polythene for wrapping the sheets / pieces later on.
- Make sure you have a safe means of reaching the material to be removed. Start to remove / dismantle the asbestos cement methodically. You may need to unscrew fastenings so have any necessary hand tools available.
- Hand down the pieces you remove and place them carefully on the polythene sheet where they will not get damaged.
- When you are finished, check for any debris. Clear up by hand, using wet wipes or similar disposable cloths and ensure any small bits or dust are placed on the polythene sheet. Never be tempted to use a vacuum cleaner!
- Wrap the sheets / pieces in polythene or place inside a bag if small enough. Do not break them up. Seal up with tape. Now do the same again so that they are double-bagged.
- You will also need to dispose of the polythene used to cover the ground, your overalls and mask and any other waste from the job as asbestos waste. Wipe down your footwear. Put the cloth in with the waste. Carry out the same double-bagging procedure for these. They can all go in together.
- When you have finished, and everything is safely double-bagged, wash your hands and face and any tools used. It is ok for a few asbestos fibres to go down the sink as it is naturally found in water we drink it everyday. It does us no harm as it is not being breathed in!
So having wrapped everything up, how do I get rid of it?
Household Waste Recycling Centres will take small amounts of asbestos (4-5 sheets). You must speak to a member of staff at the site who will tell you which skip to use. You must telephone before going, to ensure it can be accepted on the day you wish to go there. If you use your own vehicle please check that you do not damage the wrapping and contaminate your car.
Asbestos waste should not be transported in a trailer where it could fall out. A car or van is much safer.
If the amount to be disposed of is very large, the site may refuse to take it. You will have to follow the advice for business owners.
Businesses - contact a licensed asbestos removal firm to arrange for them to take the waste to a site licensed for the disposal of hazardous waste. It is necessary to comply with the Special Waste Regulations 1996. Using a contractor is likely to be easier than making the arrangements yourself. There will be a charge, so it is worth getting several quotes.
Asbestos health and safety
See asbestos health and safety on the HSE website to find out more.