DIY Asbestos Removal - Worth The Risk?

asbestos gone van

Around the house, and in the workplace, small maintenance tasks such as decorating and refitting, installing bathroom furniture or putting up shelves fall firmly into the DIY category. But what about working with asbestos? With the associated costs of engaging with a licensed contractor, and how ‘easy’ it can appear to work with- it’s tempting to give a DIY asbestos removal a try.

This begs the question… can you- and should you- try a bit of DIY asbestos Removal?

The answer, as is often the case with health and safety, is a minefield; a grey area which requires an HSE endorsed flow chart to truly determine the course of action you need to take.

(That flowchart can be found in here on page six, by the way).

In this blog however, we will attempt to unpack the decision making process, so that you can determine which course of action to take when considering work with asbestos.

As always however, the best and most fool-proof solution to the problem of asbestos is to engage with a certified professional.

The Decision Making Process

There are four factors to consider when deciding how to approach work with asbestos.

Whether or not you can start a DIY asbestos removal firstly depends on whether you are working in a commercial/professional capacity, or as a home owner-occupier.

When work is carried out as a professional, the legal statutes immediately apply- i.e. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 or the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Under these statutory instruments, workers must be trained and licensed to carry out asbestos maintenance and removal works, and also notify the Local Authority (LA) prior to commencement of works.

If removing asbestos as a home owner-occupier however, the laws do not apply- nonetheless the HSE firmly advise that you must not work with asbestos (including removal) unless you are trained to do so.

The second consideration is regarding the type of asbestos present. Different types of asbestos present different risks and as such constrain who is able to carry out the works (licensed work cannot be carried out by everyday workers/DIY-ers). For example:

  • Loose asbestos, asbestos coating, lagging, or badly damaged asbestos insulating board (AIB) insulation requires removal by an HSE Licensed Contractor. DIY Asbestos Removal is not an option.
  • Removal of AIB or insulation in good condition, where the exposure time (work duration) is less than an hour per week per person is not licensed (however there are other considerations which effect whether it is notifiable).
  • Asbestos cement sheet, textured decorative coatings, articles containing asbestos, i.e. gaskets, textiles, floor tiles, etc can be removed without a license regardless of exposure time, however, again there are other considerations which effect whether the work is notifiable.

A third factor which must be considered prior to any DIY Asbestos removal is the friability of the asbestos containing material (ACM) - how brittle and, therefore, how easily damaged the ACM is. Friable ACM contain more than 1% asbestos by weight and can easily be damaged by hand. This may appear trivial, however greater friability means the harmful asbestos fibres within the ACM can be released more easily when the ACM is disturbed or damaged. High-friability ACM maintenance and removal work is notifiable and must only be carried out by licensed contractors.

Examples of highly friable ACMs are:

  • Thermal insulation
  • Insulation boards
  • Pipe lagging
  • Sprayed coatings.

A final factor to consider is the condition of the ACM you wish to remove. If the ACM is already damaged, or may be damaged during the process of removal, it may well be better to log the location where it is present, and then make it safe by means of encapsulation/sealing.

Remember: ACM may be damaged as a result of removing mechanical fixings and fasteners such as bolts or clips, (for example, if the fastenings need grinding off, you may end up grinding the asbestos) or through over-wetting ACM such as textured coatings with gel or steam (so when attempting to remove an asbestos popcorn ceiling, for example).

DIY Asbestos Removal: Key Considerations

So, you’ve decided to undertake a bit of DIY asbestos removal (you’ve read this far and still want to give it a go?!). If you’re going down this route, there are some factors you must consider in order to do the work safely. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  1. If the work is notifiable, use the notification form from the HSE found here. While some work does not require a license, you will still need to notify the HSE.
  2. Get some level of asbestos training- this will ensure that you are aware of the risks to yourself and those around you when removing asbestos and ensure you do not cause any harm as a result of the work being carried out. As an employer, sufficiently training your employees is also a legal duty.
  3. Consider the cost of removal - you may have to pay to dispose of the ACM even if you are carrying out the removal yourself.
  4. Carry out a risk assessment- this will help you to identify all the people who may be affected by the asbestos exposure risk and identify appropriate controls. It’s a good idea to do this even if working in a non-commercial capacity.
  5. Protect others around you - make sure no-one enters the area where the work is being carried out by communicating to others details of the work, and cordoning off the area
  6. Limit the amount of people involved with the removal work- why expose lots of people to the risk unnecessarily?
  7. Limit the time spent working - firstly because it limits the exposure level, and also because this affects whether the task is licensable. If work time is going to exceed one hour per person per week, abort the task and seek assistance.
  8. Wet the ACM to reduce friability and fibre release - however during artex asbestos removal (and other textured surfaces such as an asbestos popcorn ceiling) be careful not to wet them to the point that asbestos fibres may be released. Aim for a dough-like consistency.
  9. Do not damage or break the ACM. If removal requires this, consider the viability of leaving the ACM in place, or if it must be removed- use a specialist contractor. If damage to the ACM is at all likely, stop work immediately.
  10. Ensure that you wear full ppe consisting of sealed overalls, gloves, respirator, non-laced footwear and eye protection. Ideally dispose of the overalls and clean your other ppe before re-use.
  11. Ensure you have sufficient polyethylene bags which are sealable- remember all ACM must be double bagged.
  12. Make sure you have asbestos warning labels/stickers to go on the bags- every bag must be labelled.

DIY Asbestos Removal…Not Can, But Should…

By now you should have grasped that removal of asbestos is an activity best left to the professionals. The training required, notification paperwork, safety precautions, PPE, and most importantly the inherent risk of life-threatening health problems really aren’t worth the time and effort when compared to engaging with a licensed, trained contractor. Yes, technically you can remove asbestos yourself if you follow the law and best practice to the letter - but you really shouldn’t. However, if at this point you’re adamant that you absolutely must carry out a DIY Asbestos removal - the most important thing to remember is to be safe while doing it.