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Working safely with asbestos for the home renovator

All industries
10 mins 15 secs

When renovating or repairing homes, you need to minimise the chance of exposing anyone to asbestos fibres that may result from your work. This film shows some safe work methods you can use to ensure you, your family and neighbours remain safe when working with building materials that could contain asbestos.

When renovating or repairing homes, you need to minimise the chance of exposing anyone to asbestos fibres that may result from your work. This film shows some safe work methods you can use to ensure you, your family and neighbours remain safe when working with building materials that could contain asbestos. If your house was built or renovated before 1990, it is likely to have materials containing asbestos somewhere within it. Asbestos containing materials can be found in many different locations including the roof, ceiling and walls, and especially in wet areas such as the bathroom or kitchen. If you are not sure if your house contains asbestos containing materials, you should assume it does and take adequate precautions before you start any repair or maintenance work. The only way to know whether something contains asbestos is to have a sample tested at a NATA accredited laboratory. Testing is a small price to pay to ensure you and your family are not exposed to asbestos.

Gather together all of the equipment you will need and remove any unnecessary items from the work area. Tape down a plastic drop sheet to cover any items that can't be moved, such as built in benchtops, and to cover the floor or ground surface to capture any dust or debris. Cordon off the area to prevent access by others. Close any doors and windows and turn off fans and air conditioning to prevent a breeze blowing any dust. When disturbing asbestos containing materials, you should also have on hand plastic drop sheets to capture any dust or debris, heavy plastic waste disposal bags, a spray bottle containing a mixture of water and detergent, disposable wipes to wipe up any dust, a substance such as PVA glue or paint and a small paintbrush (that you can throw away) to reseal any exposed surfaces, a spray bottle filled with a mixture of five parts water and one part PVA glue and shaving foam and disposable transparent plastic cups to capture any dust while drilling. It is important that you never use water blasters, home vacuum cleaners or abrasive power tools, such as sanders, to work on asbestos containing materials. A detailed list of other equipment can be found in 'Asbestos: A guide for minor renovation'.

If you are planning to disturb asbestos containing materials, you need to wear personal protective equipment. Tape a plastic drop sheet to the floor away from the area where you are doing the asbestos work. When you finish, this is where you'll remove your PPE. Always wear a P2 type respirator, disposable coveralls, eye protection or a face shield, and boot covers. Sometimes you might need gloves. First remove all jewellery, including watches and wedding rings. Then put on your disposable boot covers, coveralls, respirator, glasses and finally your hood. If your disposable coveralls are loose fitting, tape the ends to seal the sleeves around your wrists and the bottom of the pant legs firmly around your boots.

To capture asbestos fibres while drilling a hole in the wall begin by covering the drill entry point with duct tape. As an extra precaution plug the shaving foam to the same point. Drill a hole through the bottom of a disposable cup and fill it with shaving foam. Slide the cup down the drill bit making sure it is long enough to extend past and through the hole in the end of the cup. Make sure the drill speed is set to below 650 RPM. Align the drill bit with the marked point in the wall and start drilling while holding the cup firmly against the wall. When you finished remove the cup form the drill bit and dispose of it in the asbestos waste bag. Wipe down the drill bit with a wet wipe and put it into your waste bag. Use another wipe to clean the shaving foam and debris form the wall and the surface of the drop sheet and dispose of them in the waste bag.

The edge of the drilled hole should be sealed with a substance such as PVA glue or paint. Dispose of the brush into the waste bag. For larger holes, you may seal it off with a PVC sleeve. You may need to cut a hole into an asbestos cement sheet, such as for a data point face plate. Use the same steps as before to drill into a fibro sheet using a battery powered drill at less than 650 RPM. Drill several holes and make sure they are large enough to insert a saw. Wet down the surface of the work area using a spray bottle containing a mixture of water and detergent to minimise any dust during the sawing. Keep spraying as you saw. Once the piece is cut out, place it in the waste bag. Now use PVA glue and a paintbrush to seal any rough edges. When the work is finished, use a wet wipe to clean off any debris from the wall, the drill, the drill bit and the saw. Make sure you only use each surface of the wet wipe once.

You may need a larger opening to install a new window or door into an asbestos containing wall. In these cases, it's best to remove the entire sheet rather than cutting it. A tradesperson must use a licensed removalist if removing more than 10 square metres. A home renovator can complete certificate requirements approved by the Department of Health before removing more than 10 square metres. First, set up the disposal area. This could be a bin double-lined with plastic or an area of double plastic laid out on the ground where the waste can be placed and wrapped once the job is complete. Wearing your PPE, begin by spraying each nail that holds the sheet to the wall with a mixture of water and detergent. To remove a sheet from the wall, use a hammer and hole punch around each nail head. When the sheet is free, lift it from the wall in one piece, being careful to avoid breaking it. Wet the sheet before wrapping it in 200 micron plastic. Then tape it up with duct tape. Make sure you label the package as 'asbestos contaminated waste'. When the sheet has been removed and wrapped, spray water and PVA mixture onto any small pieces of asbestos remaining around the nails, then remove them with pincers and put them into the waste bag. Use wet wipes to clean up any debris or dust, ensuring that each surface of the wipe is only used once. Dispose of the used wipes into the asbestos waste bag.

You can use wet and dry sandpaper and a spray bottle with a mixture of water and detergent to safely repair the surface of asbestos containing material to be ready for painting. It's important that you do not use any power tools or high pressure water to do this. Spray the surface of the wall before hand-sanding. Continue to spray at frequent intervals with the water and detergent mixture while lightly sanding. Keeping the wall and any debris wet will reduce the risk of any fibres becoming airborne. When you have finished sanding, use wet wipes to clean any debris and dust, ensuring that each surface of the wipe is only used once. Dispose of the used sandpaper and wipes into an asbestos waste bag. Wet wipe the drop sheet and spray it with PVA solution to capture any missed residue, then carefully fold it up and place it into the waste bag. Once the surface is prepared, it is important to seal it with paint.

Standing on the plastic drop sheet change area, remove your disposable coveralls and your boot covers and place them in the waste bag, along with the plastic drop sheet. Use wet wipes to wipe your hands. To reduce the likelihood of asbestos exposure, remove your respirator last. Seal all used waste bags with duct tape. Place each bag into a second waste bag, seal that bag with duct tape and goose-neck the taped end. Lastly, wash your hands and face thoroughly. Contact your local council for further advice on how to dispose of asbestos waste. These safe work procedures are for minor work which involves disturbing non-friable asbestos, such as asbestos cement sheeting. If you're considering larger jobs that involve asbestos, it's best to seek professional advice from a licensed asbestos removalist. None of these procedures include the removal of friable asbestos—that is, asbestos that can be easily crumbled in your hand, such as the asbestos found on the backing to old types of sheet vinyl flooring or other places. Friable asbestos must only be removed by a Class A asbestos removalist. Download our resources from If your house was built before 1990, remember to place the sticker from the brochure into your electrical meter box as a warning to tradespeople working on the property that your house may contain asbestos. It might prevent them from accidentally exposing you or others to asbestos fibres.

Remember Work safe. Home safe.

RUNTIME: 10 min 15 secs