Removing asbestos from lofts and attics

Removing asbestos from lofts and attics

Ian Stone Asbestos Awareness, Asbestos in Homes

Removing asbestos requires the correct planning, preparation, knowledge, expertise and specialist equipment to ensure the works are carried out to the highest possible standard.

Generally, you de-camp the room or building, go in and do the works, and then it can be reused and re-occupied.

But what happens when you need to remove asbestos from a loft or space with high ceilings?

Familiarising  yourself with the hazards

From a hazard point of view, your main focus will still be the asbestos, but there are additional hazards associated with working at height that you will need to think about.   

Lofts come in all shapes and sizes, varying from building to building. You may have a loft in a residential house, or over a big hall where you have a 20-metre drop. You will also need to take into consideration any occupants below and whether that area will be occupied whilst works are being carried out. If so, the client may need to rehouse those occupants which can cause a huge issue if you are working in a flat and they need to be removed to carry out the works. The same applies if similar works are being carried out in an office or public space.

As well as the hazards associated with heights, most lofts don’t have a floor. When carrying out removal works, you can board the lofts out and use scaffolding boards, although this in itself can pose a risk and depends on the works being carried out. If you have to clean the entire loft, then it’s OK to use these for access but this will then create another problem as you will need to clean under them as part of the works.

Asbestos removal works can be noisy too. You have negative pressure units running, vacuum cleaners in use, and lots of banging as asbestos materials are deconstructed. This can make communicating with each other difficult, especially with the team also wearing facial masks.

Something else to consider is the temperature of the working environment. A loft can be hot in the summer and freezing in the winter.

Completing the works

Access can be an issue if you have a large pitch on a loft or attic and you will need to think how you are going to reach that section. You need to ensure that you have made an area safe for you to build a platform on and, if you are building a platform on joists, you need to ensure that the joists are sturdy enough to build the platform to access the area. You may even need a licensed scaffolder to help you access these types areas. In a very large loft, you may have to split the work into sections to carry out works, starting at the top, which needs to be passed off before you work your way down to start on the other sections.

Lofts can contain different types of asbestos and you should make yourself aware of what you are dealing with before starting removal works. The main places you will find asbestos are pipe works, water tanks, fire breaks, asbestos cement, insulating fibre board, roof tiles and flue pipes. If you have a redundant flue pipe that had been taken down previously and left in the loft, that can be an easy clean up and collection of materials which will be relatively straight forward to clean up afterwards too. However, water tanks can sometimes be too big for the loft hatch. The main way to get them out is to take the roof tiles off to take the tank out, or break the water tank down to get out but does this comply with a risk assessment? You should speak with your client to see how they wish to proceed.

Another thing to consider is, what happens if there is a breach whilst carrying out the works? If, for example, something falls through the ceiling, you could potentially contaminate the room below. If insulation falls down and lands on a desk or computer, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to thoroughly clean the computer.  Everything has to be cleaned after and this can cause issues if the room below is not prepared or decanted.

Minimising contamination

When working in a loft, if there is asbestos insulation on pipes within the entire loft void, it all needs removing. So how do you seal the ceiling below? Is there a lot of stuff to come out? How do we get in there and get the stuff out if the loft hatch is small?

You need to look at creating new hatches in the ceiling, taking over sections of the building below to build pods and access areas in so that personnel can get in and out of the loft and asbestos can be removed safely. And you need to construct a pod with a three-stage airlock.

You may have ceiling roses for lights. How are you going to seal the areas? You are going to need a decent system in place to catch anything that falls. Contractors have used airbags in the past to capture loose materials. Netting is also an option. A lot of heating systems actually come up through the boiler to the loft and penetrate down to the relevant rooms. Sometimes if you have a cold-water supply in the loft, you need to consider those pipes as well and where they go in the building to avoid further contamination.

However you negotiate the access and hazards, at the end of the works, every single point of the enclosure and the loft needs to be clean and it needs to be inspected by analysts afterwards.

If you would like further information on asbestos and how it can be removed safely, contact the team on 0844 818 0895 or email