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
    • Asbestos Regulations 2016
    • new licensing system 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. See the Approved Code of Practice: Management and Removal of Asbestos on the WorkSafe website.

    Asbestos Regulations 2016

    The Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 came into force on 4 April 2016. They set out the new rules around the removal of asbestos, and the circumstances where WorkSafe must be notified.

    New licensing system for asbestos removal

    A national licensing system for asbestos removal was introduced on 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.

    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

    Work with 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 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: 18 October 2016