Managing asbestos

Working with asbestos

The majority of work with asbestos must be carried out by a licensed contractor. If you do not have an asbestos licence, you can only carry out non-licensed work yourself if you are properly trained and have the right equipment.

In non-domestic buildings you have a right to be given information about the condition and location of asbestos by the person who manages the building before you start work. You must pass this information on to anyone working for you on the job. You should ask for this information when tendering or quoting for work - it will help you cost the job correctly and plan the work safely, preventing potentially expensive surprises on site.

Before you start work

Before you start work on any building constructed before the year 2000, check that all employees and contractors on site know about any materials that have been identified as containing asbestos. Provide information about the location and condition of any asbestos to every person who could disturb it. Don't start work if:

  • you're not sure if there is asbestos where you're working
  • the asbestos materials are sprayed coatings, board or insulation, or lagging on pipes and boilers - only licensed contractors should work on these
  • you have not been trained to do non-licensed work with asbestos - basic awareness training is not enough

You should make sure that your employees and contractors know how to identify asbestos and know what to do if they find it unexpectedly - see an asbestos image gallery.

What to do if you find asbestos

If you come into contact with any materials that you suspect contain asbestos, including hidden materials or dust, you should stop work immediately and leave the area. If you are unsure whether a material contains asbestos, you should assume that the material does contain it until you are sure that it does not.

You should only continue to work if:

  • the work has been properly planned and the right precautions are in place, eg you have the right equipment
  • the materials are asbestos cement, textured coatings and certain other materials which do not need a licence
  • you have had training in asbestos work and know how to work with it safely

Asbestos only becomes a danger when fibres are airborne. Do not break or damage any material that may contain asbestos. You should only take samples if you are suitably trained.

If you need to work with asbestos, make sure that you:

  • use hand tools, not power tools
  • keep materials damp, not too wet
  • wear a properly fitted, suitable mask, eg disposable FFP3 type - an ordinary dust mask won't be effective
  • don't smoke, eat or drink in the work area
  • double-bag asbestos waste and label the bags properly
  • clean up as you go by using a special (Class H) vacuum cleaner, not a brush
  • after work, wipe down your overalls with a damp rag or wear disposable overalls (Type 5)
  • always remove overalls before removing your mask
  • don't take overalls home to wash
  • wear boots without laces or disposable boot covers
  • put disposable clothing items in asbestos waste bags and dispose of them properly
  • don't carry asbestos into your car or home

Find guidance on non-licensed asbestos work.

Reduce the spread of asbestos

If you are working with asbestos or carrying out work which may disturb asbestos, you must prevent, or reduce as far as possible, the asbestos spreading.

During any work, you must make sure that the area and the equipment being used for the work are kept clean. Once work involving asbestos has finished, you must make sure the area where the work was carried out is thoroughly cleaned.

Leave asbestos materials in place

If the materials are in good condition and are unlikely to be damaged or disturbed, you should leave them in place. You must make sure the materials are properly maintained and you must monitor their condition. You should also label these materials with the asbestos warning label so that they can be easily identified.