New Zealand is a DIY Paradise, where the #8 Wire ethos still prevails. After all, why pay someone else to do the job when you can do it yourself? How hard can it actually be? Not very hard at all – if you’re thinking about building a chicken coop or laying some concrete. But if you want to pull down a shed lined with old asbestos panelling, or embark on renovating your old villa with original fittings then suddenly it’s not an easy job any more.
Asbestos, simply put, is dangerous stuff. It’s a mineral rock with really good insulating properties, which is why it was used a lot, and really bad life-threatening properties, which is why it’s not used any more,
That being said, asbestos was still being used in the manufacture of building materials into the 1990s, and, according to BRANZ, is found in a lot of products and places – some you’ll already be aware of, and others you might not expect.
The Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016, which was brought in after problems surfaced during the Christchurch rebuild, stipulates that only licenced operators can undertake asbestos removal in a workplace, unless the total amount to be removed – that’s across the whole project – is less than 10 square metres in area. The asbestos or asbestos-containing products must be non-friable – that is, in good condition, solid, not crumbling, cracked or broken.
Even if you’re not actively removing any asbestos, as a business owner you’re required to develop an asbestos management plan for your workplace.
As a homeowner, you’re not bound by the law, unless you’re paying someone to do your renovations or asbestos removal. In that case you become a PCBU – a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking – and the rules set out above apply.
BRANZ has this to say about DIY asbestos removal:
“Work removing asbestos that does not require a licence must nevertheless be carried out with care. If products containing asbestos are in sound condition and left alone, they do not pose a major risk. The risk occurs when materials are cut, sanded, waterblasted or broken up, resulting in asbestos fibres being released.
When working with asbestos, precautions include:
sealing off the work area to minimise exposure to others
wearing disposable overalls and cap
using a half-facepiece respirator with a class P2/P3 filter suitable for asbestos dust
keeping asbestos-based material damp while handling it
cleaning up at the completion of each day’s work.
waterblast the asbestos-based material
break sheets or drop them, causing them to break.”
The law is clear here – if you’re planning any renovations, and you have reason to suspect the presence of asbestos, you must check for it.
You should call in an expert, someone fully trained and with all the professional equipment. A company like Chemcare, who are trained and well equipped in the business of testing for and removing asbestos.
Worksafe has published a booklet - Removing Asbestos from Your Home, that goes into a lot more detail, from identifying the type of asbestos or ACM (asbestos-containing material) you’re likely to have to deal with, how to prepare the site, how to remove the material, how to dispose of it and how to decontaminate the site, equipment and yourself afterwards.
So, yes, you can remove asbestos yourself, but only in certain limited circumstances, and only if you carry out stringent safety procedures before, after and during. And you’ll need to remove all of it - remember, just a small amount of asbestos fibres can set off a chain of events, the symptoms of which won’t become apparent for 20, 30, maybe even 50 years.
Back to that DIY ethos – why pay when you can do it yourself? When it comes to asbestos removal, it’s not just about cost – other important things to consider include:
Requires full PPE
Because asbestos fibres are easily airborne, it means that it can easily be inhaled or transferred. When on site and dealing with asbestos removal, all Chemcare technicians wear full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). This normally includes a full hazmat suit, respirator, covered boots and gloves.
Affected rooms need to be contained to ensure further contamination doesn't occur
If the asbestos needs to be disturbed and removed, the affected room will need to be fully contained with proper equipment and materials. This is often very difficult to do on one's own, and really requires the knowledge of a working asbestos professional.
You will need good general knowledge of building materials
Removing part of a building or structure without solid knowledge of the construction of the area could be risky to the integrity of the building. Aside from the risk of collapsing building materials, you could risk ruining the building structure.
Although many think they can get away with it, asbestos can't be just left on the street or taken to the dump. Typically it needs to be wrapped and properly buried in an area that won't be disturbed. Any equipment used also needs to be decontaminated so that any asbestos related risk is eliminated.
Is it worth that risk? It probably isn’t, not when there are experts who are fully trained, properly equipped and acutely aware of just how important safety is when it comes to removing and disposing of asbestos safely. And who are only too happy to offer free, best-practice advice.