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Knowledge Base » Health and Safety » Best Practices for Safe Asbestos Removal and Disposal

Best Practices for Safe Asbestos Removal and Disposal

Asbestos is the UK’s biggest killer in the workplace. In 2021, there were 2,268 deaths from mesothelioma and a similar number of lung cancer deaths attributed to asbestos exposure in the workplace. What’s more, a further 537 deaths in the same year mentioned asbestosis on the death certificates. Those most at risk are men who worked in the building industry in the past. 

Despite asbestos being banned as a building product nowadays, it is still contained within many buildings that were built before 2000. Therefore, workers often come into contact with it when buildings are adapted or destroyed. With the risks known, it’s important to ensure the safe removal and disposal of asbestos. Inhaling the fibres can lead to a range of debilitating and fatal respiratory diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer, pleural thickening and asbestosis. As such, proper removal and disposal techniques and procedures are needed.

Understanding Asbestos

Understanding Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. It is composed of thin, fibrous crystals and is known for its heat resistance, durability and insulating properties. Throughout history, asbestos found widespread use in various industries and construction applications. That was until the full extent of its health risks were discovered. When its microscopic fibres are disturbed, they can become airborne and easily inhaled into the lungs and, in turn, cause serious health problems that pose a risk to life.

The health risks of asbestos

Inhaling asbestos fibres poses significant health risks. This is due to their sharp, needle-like structure and durability. Once lodged in the lungs, these fibres can cause inflammation, scarring and irreversible damage over time. Long-term asbestos exposure has been linked to several debilitating respiratory diseases. These include:

What makes asbestos particularly hazardous is its latency period. Symptoms of asbestos-related diseases often don’t manifest for decades after initial exposure. This makes diagnosis and treatment challenging.

For decades, asbestos enjoyed widespread use in various industries, construction materials and household products due to its desirable properties. Over time, however, the health risks associated with asbestos exposure became increasingly apparent. As a result, regulatory agencies began imposing restrictions on its use. Tragically, many individuals who worked with or lived in buildings containing asbestos were unknowingly exposed to its dangers. This has resulted in a significant public health crisis.

The danger of asbestos is still there due to its prevalence in buildings. Improper handling of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) can release fibres into the air, endangering the health of workers, occupants and surrounding communities. As such, asbestos removal and disposal needs to be carried out with caution and adherence to safety protocols.

Regulations and Guidelines

In the United Kingdom, the removal and disposal of asbestos is governed by a comprehensive regulatory framework. This aims to protect public health and safety. The main piece of legislation addressing asbestos management is the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (CAR 2012), which implemented European Union directives concerning asbestos.

Key provisions of the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 include:

Identification and assessment

CAR 2012 requires duty holders (those responsible for managing premises) to conduct asbestos surveys. The aim of these is to identify and assess the presence of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) within buildings. The surveys help determine the risk of exposure and inform appropriate management actions.

Management plan

Duty holders must develop and maintain a written asbestos management plan detailing the location, condition and risk assessment of ACMs on their premises. The plan should outline procedures for monitoring, managing and, if necessary, removing asbestos.

Training and competence

CAR 2012 mandates training and competence requirements for individuals involved in asbestos management. This includes surveyors, analysts and removal operatives. Training programmes should cover topics such as asbestos awareness, surveying techniques and safe removal practices.

Training and competence

Notification of work

Any work involving asbestos removal must be notified to the relevant enforcing authority at least 14 days before it starts. This notification allows regulatory bodies to monitor and inspect asbestos removal projects to check they comply with safety standards.


Certain asbestos removal activities, particularly those involving higher-risk materials such as friable asbestos or extensive removal projects, require a licence from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Licensed contractors must demonstrate competency and adhere to strict safety protocols during removal activities.

Prohibition and control

The legislation prohibits the importation, supply and use of certain types of asbestos. This includes crocidolite (blue asbestos) and amosite (brown asbestos). Additionally, the regulations impose controls on the handling, storage and disposal of asbestos to minimise the risk of exposure.

Key organisations and authorities

There are several organisations involved in the removal and disposal of asbestos. These include:

  • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE): The HSE is the primary regulatory body responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation, including CAR 2012, relating to asbestos management and removal. The HSE provides guidance, conducts inspections and issues licences for asbestos removal contractors.
  • Asbestos Licensing Unit: Within the HSE, the Asbestos Licensing Unit oversees the licensing of asbestos removal contractors and ensures compliance with licensing requirements. The unit assesses applications, conducts audits and monitors licensed contractors’ performance.
  • Local authorities: Local authorities have a role in enforcing asbestos regulations within their jurisdictions, particularly concerning non-domestic premises. They may conduct inspections, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against those who fail to comply with asbestos requirements.

Risk Assessment and Planning

Asbestos risk assessment plays a crucial role in ensuring the safe and effective removal of asbestos-containing materials. Before undertaking any asbestos removal project, a thorough risk assessment is needed. This identifies potential hazards, assesses the level of risk and ensures appropriate control measures are in place. 

Here’s how the risk assessment process and planning for asbestos removal projects typically unfold:

Asbestos risk assessment

  • Conduct a comprehensive survey of the premises to identify all ACMs. Include their type, condition, location and extent.
  • Assess the risk of asbestos exposure based on factors. This includes the type of ACM, its friability (likelihood to release fibres when disturbed), accessibility and the presence of vulnerable occupants.
  • Evaluate the likelihood and potential consequences of asbestos exposure. You need to consider factors such as the frequency and duration of human activity near ACMs.

Planning asbestos removal

  • Develop a detailed asbestos removal plan. This should be based on the findings of the risk assessment. It should outline the scope of work, methodologies and safety procedures.
  • Establish a project timeline and allocate resources. This includes personnel, equipment and materials that are necessary for safe removal and disposal.
  • Obtain any required permits or licences from regulatory authorities, such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), for licensed asbestos removal activities.
  • Notify relevant stakeholders, including occupants, workers and regulatory agencies, about the planned asbestos removal activities. They should also be notified about associated safety measures.

Site preparation

  • Prepare the work area by erecting physical barriers, signage and access controls to restrict entry and minimise the risk of unauthorised access.
  • Seal off the removal area with polyethene sheeting and duct tape. This creates a containment enclosure and isolates the work area from the rest of the building.
  • Implement engineering controls. This includes using negative air pressure units and HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration systems to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres during removal activities.
  • Make sure there is adequate ventilation within the work area. This will help to minimise the build-up of airborne asbestos fibres.

Safety measures

  • Provide appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers. This includes respirators, coveralls, gloves and eye protection.
  • Conduct pre-removal briefings and training sessions. These should aim to familiarise workers with the removal plan, safety protocols, emergency procedures and the proper use of PPE.
  • Implement decontamination procedures. There should be designated clean and dirty zones, shower facilities and equipment cleaning stations. This is important to prevent cross-contamination and ensure worker safety.
  • Monitor air quality and asbestos fibre levels. This should be done throughout the removal process by using air sampling.
Protective Equipment and Clothing

Protective Equipment and Clothing

Personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing are essential components of safe asbestos removal practices. They provide workers with the necessary protection against exposure to hazardous asbestos fibres. 

The PPE and clothing required for safe asbestos removal includes:


Respirators are perhaps the most critical piece of PPE for asbestos removal workers. They protect against inhaling airborne asbestos fibres. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter respirators are specifically designed to capture asbestos fibres. They prevent them from entering the respiratory system.


Disposable coveralls made from impermeable materials provide full-body protection against asbestos dust and fibres. They should be worn over regular clothing to prevent contamination. They should be disposed of after each use. This prevents any fibres from spreading outside of the work area.


Heavy-duty gloves made from materials such as nitrile or latex offer hand protection against direct contact with asbestos-containing materials. Gloves should be worn whenever handling ACMs or contaminated surfaces. This minimises the risk of skin exposure and contamination.

Eye protection

Safety glasses or goggles should be worn to protect the eyes from airborne asbestos fibres as well as dust and other debris generated during removal activities. Eye protection helps prevent irritation, injury and potential contamination of the eyes with asbestos particles.


Workers should wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes or boots with non-slip soles to protect their feet from sharp objects and potential hazards on the work site. Disposable shoe covers could be used to prevent tracking asbestos dust outside of the work area and into clean areas.

Head coverings

Disposable head coverings like hoods or caps help prevent contamination of the hair and scalp with asbestos dust and fibres. Head coverings should be worn in conjunction with respirators to provide comprehensive protection for the head and neck area. Without a head covering, workers risk taking fibres home in their hair.

Containment and Isolation

Containment and Isolation

Containment areas are crucial during asbestos removal. They prevent the spread of asbestos fibres beyond the work area and minimise the risk of exposure to workers and occupants of the surrounding areas. Containment measures confine asbestos fibres and dust to prevent their dispersion into the environment.

Preventing the spread of fibres

Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are typically friable. This means they can easily release fibres into the air when disturbed. Without proper containment measures, these airborne fibres can travel significant distances. They can then contaminate adjacent areas and expose individuals to asbestos-related health hazards.

Protecting workers and occupants

Containment areas provide a controlled environment where asbestos removal workers can safely conduct their activities without risking exposure to airborne asbestos fibres. Through the isolation of the work area and the use of containment measures, workers, building occupants and bystanders are protected from inhaling or coming into contact with asbestos dust and fibres.

Compliance with regulations

The regulations are there for a reason and need to be adhered to. Regulatory authorities, such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), often require the implementation of containment and isolation measures as part of licensed asbestos removal projects. Compliance with these regulations ensures that asbestos removal activities are conducted safely and per established standards. This minimises the risk of exposure and environmental contamination.

Examples of containment and isolation measures used during asbestos removal include:

  • Physical Barriers: Erecting barriers like plastic sheeting or temporary walls to prevent the spread of asbestos fibres. These barriers should be securely fastened and extended from floor to ceiling to create a sealed enclosure.
  • Negative Air Pressure Systems: Also known as air filtration units, these systems create a pressure gradient that draws air into the containment area and prevents the escape of airborne contaminants. They use HEPA filters to capture asbestos fibres and remove them from the air.
  • Sealed Enclosures: Sealing all openings and gaps to create an airtight enclosure. This prevents asbestos fibres from escaping. The sealed enclosure should be inspected regularly to make sure it remains intact.

Removal Techniques

Removal techniques need to be established – safe practices that minimise the generation of airborne asbestos fibres. There are two common removal methods: wet removal and controlled dismantling.

Wet removal

This involves saturating ACMs with water or another wetting agent before or during the removal process. By wetting the ACM, the asbestos fibres are damp, which prevents them from becoming airborne. This method is particularly effective for friable materials like asbestos insulation or spray-applied asbestos coatings. These are particularly prone to releasing fibres when disturbed.

Controlled dismantling

This involves the careful disassembly of structures containing asbestos. This is done in a controlled way to minimise the release of fibres. Unlike aggressive demolition techniques that generate large amounts of debris, this method dismantles the materials piece by piece. Workers use hand tools instead of large heavy machinery. This means they can remove the ACMs without causing excessive disturbance.

The importance of minimising airborne fibre generation

Minimising fibres in the air is important for two main reasons. Firstly, it protects the health of the workers. Secondly, it prevents contamination of the environment. If fibres are released into the air, they could end up in nearby buildings, soil and water sources. This would then pose significant risks to building occupants and those living in the vicinity.

Handling and Packaging

Handling and Packaging

Once dismantled, ACMs also need to be handled and packaged carefully to further minimise risks. Here are the general steps taken:

  • Preparation: Before handling ACMs, workers should need to put on appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). The work area should also be properly prepared with containment barriers in place.
  • Wetting: Before removal, ACMs should be thoroughly wetted using a fine mist of water or a wetting agent to suppress the release of asbestos fibres.
  • Gentle Handling: ACMs should be handled with care to minimise fibre release. Workers should avoid dropping or breaking the material.
  • Packaging: Once wet and removed, the materials should be double-bagged or wrapped securely in heavy-duty plastic sheeting. Bags should be sealed with duct tape and labelled clearly to indicate they contain asbestos. This should include the date of packaging, the words ‘danger – asbestos’ (or similar) and any other specific handling instructions.
  • Storage: Packaged ACMs should be stored in a designated, secure area within the work site until they are ready for disposal. This area should be locked and inaccessible to unauthorised individuals to prevent tampering or accidental exposure.


Asbestos should be transported following local regulations as well as the guidelines for the safe handling and transportation of hazardous materials. They should also use vehicles that are specifically designated for transporting asbestos waste. These should be equipped with leak-proof containers and secure tie-downs to prevent spills or accidents. Drivers should also be trained in the safe handling of asbestos waste and be provided with PPE.


Asbestos waste must be disposed of at licensed facilities that are capable of handling it. Those responsible for disposal must follow all regulations, including proper landfilling procedures and documentation requirements. Asbestos waste must also be contained and not be mixed with other types of waste to prevent cross-contamination.

Decontamination and Waste Disposal

It’s essential to have decontamination procedures in place for workers and equipment used. In terms of worker decontamination, workers should undergo thorough decontamination procedures to remove any asbestos fibres from their bodies and clothing. Before leaving the work area, they should remove their PPE and clothing inside the allocated ‘dirty zone’, taking care to avoid shaking or disturbing contaminated materials. 

With PPE and clothing removed, workers should shower thoroughly to remove any remaining asbestos fibres from their skin and hair. They should then put on clean clothing. Any contaminated clothing should be double-bagged and labelled for disposal as asbestos waste. This should be done by someone wearing PPE.

Decontaminating equipment

All equipment used during the removal of asbestos should be decontaminated after use. This should be done using wet wiping methods or HEPA vacuuming to remove any visible asbestos dust or debris.

Contractor Selection and Training

Contractor Selection and Training

Given the dangers, it is crucial to use only qualified asbestos removal contractors. They should have experience and a proven track record in asbestos removal. Importantly, the contractor must hold relevant licences and insurance coverage. Above all, they need to have a comprehensive understanding of the Control of Asbestos Regulations. 

It’s always a good idea to obtain references from previous clients before choosing the contractor. This includes enquiring about their satisfaction with the contractor’s performance, adherence to safety protocols and quality of workmanship.

Besides the qualifications and licences of the contractor, anyone who works for them should also have the relevant training and certifications. Although there is no legal requirement for employees to hold a certificate, these do show that the person has had training. 

Some popular training providers for asbestos removal include:

There are also training providers for asbestos in soil and construction/demolition materials provided by the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) and Contaminated Land: Applications in Real Environments (CL:AIRE).

Reporting and Documentation

For licensable work with asbestos, the employer needs to notify the enforcing authority 14 days in advance. For non-licensable work, the notification needs to happen before the work begins. The former refers to activities with higher-risk ACMs and activities that could release a greater number of asbestos fibres into the air. Examples include removing asbestos insulation. Non-licensable asbestos work is lower risk. It might be something like minor repairs.

Keeping detailed records

Employers are obliged by law to maintain a health record of those who are exposed to asbestos through licensable work. This must be kept for at least 40 years from the date of the last entry. As well as this, all employees exposed to asbestos should be given medical surveillance periodically (at least every 2 years).

Post-Removal Inspection and Air Monitoring

After asbestos has been removed, it’s important to carry out inspections and air monitoring. This verifies that the work has been completed safely and effectively and it ensures the environment is free from asbestos contamination.

Post-removal inspections

After asbestos removal activities are completed, it is essential to conduct a thorough post-removal inspection of the work area to assess the effectiveness of the removal process. After inspection, a ‘site clearance certificate for reoccupation’ will be issued. This means that the area is clear of asbestos.

The inspection will ensure there is no visible asbestos debris or contamination. Inspectors use specialist equipment like borescopes and fibre-optic cameras to access confined spaces to check there is no asbestos residue.

Air monitoring

Air monitoring is also important after asbestos removal as it confirms the site and environment are safe for reoccupation. An inspector will collect air samples and analyse them using microscopy techniques. This will ensure the air meets regulatory clearance criteria.


To summarise, ensuring the safe removal and disposal of asbestos is essential to protect the environment and public health. Asbestos-related diseases continue to pose significant risks. For this reason, it’s essential to adhere to regulations and best practices in asbestos management. By understanding the hazards and following proper procedures, we can mitigate the risks associated with asbestos exposure. All stakeholders, from contractors to regulatory authorities, have a duty to remain vigilant to manage asbestos safely and responsibly.

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About the author

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Louise Woffindin

Louise is a writer and translator from Sheffield. Before turning to writing, she worked as a secondary school language teacher. Outside of work, she is a keen runner and also enjoys reading and walking her dog Chaos.

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