Asbestos material – unexpected disturbance

Despite best efforts to ensure that we know where asbestos is likely or unlikely to be present, materials are occasionally discovered that are suspected to contain asbestos. If a discovered material has not been previously verified as asbestos-free, precautions must be taken as though it does contain asbestos.

When unknown materials that potentially contain asbestos are unexpectedly disturbed, and appropriate controls are not in place, work quickly to protect yourself and others. Unexpected disturbances that release fibre are rare and would typically involve small amounts of material in service areas like plant rooms or risers or on building sites during refurbishment work.

Immediate actions

  • Alert everyone in the immediate area of the disturbance
  • Inform Security, phone: 966 (internal) or 0800 373 7550
  • Make sure everyone not trained to work with asbestos and without appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) leaves the immediate area.
  • Isolate the area (e.g. cordon area so there is a buffer zone; secure door). Put up a warning sign.
  • If practicable, damp down the material and remove any source of air movement or cover it, preferably with a non-porous covering.
  • If material is on clothing or person:
    • If a small amount, damp down and wipe off
    • If large amounts, take off outer layer of clothing and leave it in the area; get a helper if possible who has PPE to assist with damping down hair, skin; shower if required or as a precaution.
    • In both cases: Dispose of wipes or any contaminated clothing as asbestos waste or store securely in an airtight labelled container. Set aside for disposal or wait until confirmed asbestos.
  • Contacting security will put steps in motion. An asbestos specialist will be sent to investigate, assess risks, determine controls and assist with next steps. This will include assessing whether asbestos was involved, help arranging cleaning or waste disposal, and working towards a clearance to reoccupy the area in a way that meets good practice, regulations, and University protocols. Security will assist with isolation.

Note: building contactors must follow job-specific incident procedures agreed in their work plan.

Staff: Clean up/post-spill actions

Ensure personal wellbeing

  • Decontaminate yourself and others, including clothing (see above)
  • Notify the University asbestos specialist or Health Safety Wellbeing manager about the event
  • If advised that you may have been exposed to respirable asbestos fibre, you may choose to register on the New Zealand Asbestos Exposure Database
  • If the asbestos specialist determines asbestos fibre exposure likely exceeding the threshold for a baseline health assessment you may apply for one in accordance with University health policy.

Asbestos specialist to arrange disposal of contaminated materials

  • Seal any items used that cannot be decontaminated in a double layer of heavy-duty plastic bags or containers
  • Store waste in a secure location. Clearly label the waste as asbestos containing waste
  • Contact Staff Service Centre to arrange asbestos waste removal (if this has not already been arranged with the University asbestos specialist)

Lab manager/supervisor responsibilities

  1. Restock and review
  2. Raise an incident report using the University’s accident/incident reporting system
  3. Assess reasons for incident and implement corrective response as soon as possible