Health risks: asbestos

Asbestos can cause cancer and other serious diseases years after exposure. Some work with asbestos is restricted, and Worksafe must be notified before it is carried out.

Asbestos was used in bungalows in wall and roof claddings. It becomes a health hazard when old materials containing asbestos are being removed or broken up allowing the fine particles to become airborne and able to be breathed in. Unfortunately the danger is often underestimated because symptoms often do not appear until 15–20 years after exposure. 

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 the Approved Code of Practice for the Management and Removal of Asbestos

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Working with asbestos

Restricted work

The Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations (2016) regulate working with asbestos. They set out the new rules around the removal of asbestos, and the circumstances where WorkSafe must be notified.

New licence system for asbestos removal

A national licensing system for asbestos removal was introduced on 4 April 2016. Three types of licence are available under new regulations: Class A (where the biggest risk to health exists), Class B, and an asbestos assessor licence. An 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.

No licence is required for asbestos removal:

  • up to and including 10 m2 of non-friable asbestos or asbestos-containing material (ACM), cumulatively, over the whole course of the removal project for the site
  • asbestos-contaminated dust or debris (ACD) that is associated with removing 10 m2 or less of non-friable asbestos or ACM and any associated minor ACD.


The new removal licences will be held by a business, rather than a person.

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.

More details can be found at this WorkSafe page.

    Other work with asbestos

    Even when work with asbestos is not defined as restricted work, it 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:

    • seal off the work area to minimise exposure to others 
    • wear disposable overalls and cap 
    • use a half-facepiece respirator with a class P1 filter suitable for asbestos dust 
    • keep asbestos-based material damp while handling it 
    • clean 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 November 2013)