Health and Safety

Taking care with materials, equipment and work procedures and dealing with hazards.


Asbestos-based products were widely used in construction from the 1920s to the mid-1980s. Commonly used products that contained asbestos included roof tiles, wall claddings, vinyl floor coverings, sprayed fire protection, decorative ceilings, roofing membranes, adhesives and paints.

On this page:

  • health risks from asbestos
  • testing for asbestos
  • restricted work
  • licensing for asbestos removal
  • working with asbestos
  • cleaning up.

Health risks from asbestos

Asbestos can cause asbestosis (lung disease) and lung cancer when inhaled. However, as symptoms often do not appear until 15–20 years after exposure, the danger of asbestos is easily underestimated.

Most work-related deaths in in the building industry are the result of exposure to asbestos during demolition or renovation.

Both groups of asbestos minerals present health risks:

  • the serpentine group (commonly called white asbestos)
  • the amphibole group (including blue and brown asbestos).

Removing asbestos during demolition work is carefully regulated. Ignoring the rules can be costly – in 2015 a Christchurch company was fined $45,000 for failing to properly identify and manage asbestos at a demolition site.

Testing for asbestos

If you suspect asbestos may be present, the following laboratories are able to test the material:

For cladding or flooring, a sample approximately the size of a $2 coin is required. For decorative ceiling finishes, a minimum of one teaspoonful is required, and this should include any sparkly material. Samples should be obtained in accordance with Occupational Safety and Health Guidelines for the Management and Removal of Asbestos.

Restricted work

The Health and Safety in Employment (Asbestos) Regulations (1998) regulate working with asbestos until April 2016, when a new licensing regime is introduced (see below).. They define ‘restricted work’ where OSH must be notified before the work begins and that the work must be carried out by a person holding a certificate of competence or by someone under direct supervision of a person holding a certificate.

Restricted work involving asbestos includes:

  • where the asbestos is friable (easily crumbled) and used in thermal or acoustic insulation; fire protection; lagging around boilers, ducts, furnaces and pipes; or textured ceilings
  • dry sanding of floor coverings containing asbestos
  • using a power tool with any kind of cutting blade or abrasive device on any bonded material containing asbestos, unless used with dust control equipment (dust extraction devices)
  • encapsulation (coating) of asbestos
  • demolition or removal of asbestos materials.

New licensing system for asbestos removal

A national licensing system for asbestos removal is being introduced from 4 April 2016. The licences available under the new asbestos regulations are:

Type of licence What asbestos can be removed?
Class A Any type or quantity of asbestos or asbestos containing material, including:
  • any amount of friable asbestos or asbestos containing material (ACM)
  • any amount of asbestos contaminated dust or debris (ACD)
  • any amount of non-friable asbestos or ACM.
Class B Any amount of non-friable asbestos or ACM
  ACD associated with removing any amount of non-friable asbestos or ACM.

The new removal licences will be held by the business, rather than a person. For businesses requiring a Class A and Class B licence:

  • You can apply for a Class A and Class B licence from 4 April 2016.
  • Information on the application criteria and process will be available in early 2016.

No licence is required for removing:

  • up to 10 m2 of non-friable asbestos or asbestos-containing material over the whole course of the removal project for the site
  • asbestos-contaminated dust that is associated with this volume of asbestos or asbestos-containing material, and/or any associated minor volume of asbestos-contaminated dust or debris.

A new role of asbestos assessor has been developed. A licensed asbestos assessor will provide air quality monitoring during removal work, inspect the finished job and provide a clearance certificate. A licensed asbestos assessor will be required to assess Class A asbestos removal work from 2018 onwards.

Current Certificate of Competence holders will be able to continue removing asbestos (in the categories specified on their certificate), and supervise asbestos removal, until their certificate expires. “

Working with asbestos

Working with asbestos that is not defined as restricted work 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 P1 filter suitable for asbestos dust
  • keeping asbestos-based material damp while handling it
  • cleaning up at the completion of each day’s work.

Do not:

  • waterblast the asbestos-based material
  • break sheets or drop them, causing them to break.

Cleaning up

  • Collect residue from the washing or other work with asbestos while it is still wet and bag in plastic or a closed container.
  • Clearly mark bags/containers ‘Asbestos Hazard – wear respirator and protective clothing while handling the contents’.
  • Dispose of asbestos at a place approved by the local authority and cover immediately with at least 1 m of earth.
  • Vacuum residue and dust from all surfaces (including unsealed drawers and cupboards) using a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter.
  • Wet mop after vacuuming.

Updated: 15 January 2016