Working with asbestos roof cleaning — Department of Justice and Attorney-General

Working with asbestos roof cleaning - Department of Justice and Attorney-General

Date issued: 2011-02-18

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) today warned of risks from cleaning asbestos “fibro” roofs with high pressure water blasters.

Jim Carmichael, Senior Director, Service Delivery, WHSQ, said it was illegal to clean asbestos roofs with a high pressure water blaster as it damages the roof surface which may cause the release of dangerous asbestos fibres.

“These fibres can become a serious health hazard not only for the people doing the work but also for others in the vicinity,” Mr Carmichael said.

Builders, contractors, tradespeople, business and home owners have been urged to familiarise themselves with workplace asbestos handling procedures or face heavy clean-up costs and prosecution.

“Workplace Health and Safety Queensland advises that fibro roofs, which are also known as ‘super 6’ and ‘fibro cement’, do not pose an increased risk to human health if they are in good condition and not disturbed,” Mr Carmichael said.

“Cleaning of such roof surfaces, which have been submerged by flood water, may be carried out using general water hoses but the surface should be checked during the cleaning process to ensure it is not being damaged.”

Mr Carmichael said using high pressure water cleaners, rather than domestic garden hoses, increased the risk of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres.

Cleaning up asbestos debris from improperly cleaned roofs often requires extensive clean-up which must be undertaken by licensed asbestos removal specialists at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars. The affected properties may also not be able to be accessed for weeks.

“Well maintained asbestos cement roofs are not a risk to human health unless they are physically disturbed or being worked on. They can be left alone until they are no longer water tight.”

In 2010, WHSQ wrote to many equipment hire companies warning them of the dangers of high pressure water cleaners when used with asbestos and supplied them with water proof warning tags designed to attach to the water blasters.

Removal of 10m² or more of asbestos containing material must be done by a licensed asbestos removalist.

Asbestos safety tips include:

  • avoid breaking asbestos materials and only remove it if absolutely necessary, e.g. if sheeting is already broken and dislodged
  • take care when cleaning the surface of asbestos materials so as to avoid damage and the release of asbestos fibres
  • surfaces containing asbestos materials such as roofs and walls should be cleaned using water hoses or by hand, NOT by using high pressure water cleaners or water blasters
  • avoid walking on corrugated asbestos roofs as they may collapse from the weigh
  • avoid using power tools to drill or cut asbestos materials
  • make sure asbestos materials are wet during removal and other work; isolate electricity to wet areas
  • wear disposable coveralls with a hood as well as an approved particulate respirator (Class p2 – this will be marked on the packaging) when removing asbestos
  • thoroughly wash hands, shower and wash hair after handling or after suspecting you may have handled asbestos materials
  • double bag/wrap and label all asbestos materials and waste and call your local authority to find out where to properly dispose of any asbestos products
  • painted asbestos containing materials are less likely to release fibres and can be cleaned with slightly higher water pressure
  • regularly check the surface of the material you are cleaning to ensure it is not being damaged
  • do not use power tools or any abrasive materials on asbestos containing surfaces
  • safe work procedures including for low speed drill/hand drilling and hand sawing asbestos containing material, and the removal of less than 10m² of asbestos containing material, including wrapping waste and clean-up after the work is completed, can be found in Asbestos: a home renovators and tradespersons guide for minor work in domestic premises guide (PDF, 1.6 MB).

    For further information on cleaning up after the floods contact the Workplace Health and Safety hotline on 1800 177 717.

    Media contact: (07) 3405 6976

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