' the Woodlouse: Roof diving and asbestos


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Roof diving and asbestos

It's been an interesting week or so.

I got off to a good start, finally beginning actual physical work on site.  Starting work on demolishing the old sun-room I removed the glass from the windows, took off the doors and stripped the half-rotten timber cladding.  During the course of this I became deeply suspicious that the internal wallboard was more asbestos; the survey last year indicated that the soffit boards of the bungalow probably contained asbestos but we hadn't realised the sun-room might have the stuff too.

The sun-room with cladding stripped, revealing the suspect boards.

I stopped work until I had sent samples of these boards, the soffit boards, and the textured celings (which the surveyor also thought might contain asbestos) to the very helpful Asbestos Watchdog who offer an incredibly fast and cheap testing service.  They confirmed the boards are asbestos cement, but advised that as this is a very stable material (provided you don't smash it) and it is a domestic property I could safely and legally remove these boards myself.  Thankfully the ceiling coating doesn't contain asbestos.  Large portions of ceiling need to be removed, which will create lots of dust - so this is a massive relief.

Detail showing fibrous cement board, around the old cat flap.  Maybe that's why we haven't seen the cat for a long time...

Further info on safely dealing with asbestos can be found here, with links to the Health and Safety Executive's Guidance notes.  Although these notes relate to non-domestic properties (which are governed by different laws concerning asbestos management) they are a good source of sensible precautions.  In any case, don't do any asbestos work without at least getting professional advice first.

So, protective clothing donned, advice followed, I removed the asbestos boards from the sun-room.  They are now wrapped in two layers of thick plastic (1000 gauge plastic sheeting, as per the guidance - aka: damp-proof membrane from a big roll), along with all the nails and screws I removed from them.

Ready for action
High-tech protective gear (shoe laces and crevices in shoes could trap fibres)
Afterwards, with obligatory respirator marks
Asbestos boards safely wrapped in two layers of 1000 gauge plastic.  I'll probably put another layer around before moving it, just to be extra sure no fibres can be spread in transit.  I need to get some asbestos warning labels too.
 Disposing of the asbestos once wrapped is a whole other matter.  Certain council recycling sites will accept strictly limited amounts of asbestos, provided it is wrapped as required and labelled.  I think I may ultimately have just over the amount they will accept, but I will find out shortly.

In any case, once I'd dealt with the sun-room asbestos-cement boards I decided to tackle the plastic roof.  Kneeling on the solid garage roof, taking care not to put any weight on the very fragile, brittle old corrugated plastic sheeting I started taking out the nails and screws that fixed the sheets in place.  While reaching to the far side of the first sheet, the crow bar I was using to lever out a nail slipped.  The next thing I knew was a loud crunch as my head and shoulders punctured the roof (neatly hitting a spot without timber supports in the way).

My thought at this point was "oh no, I'm falling through the roof" (only with added swearing).  This, I thought, was a bad thing.  Adrenalin then kicked in and sped my thoughts up so some part of brain could try and do something about it.  I grabbed at the timbers but apparently had far too much momentum for that to stop me.  Crucially though, it did turn me sideways in the air so I was no longer falling head first.  Good.

"Oh dear, I'm still falling, this really is quite bad" I thought, closely followed by "it's going to really hurt when I hit the concrete".  I'm not quite sure of the order but at some point here "so that's how these kinds of accident happen" went through my mind.

I was vaguely aware that despite the rationality of my thoughts, the sound coming from my mouth was a text book "WoooooaaaaAAAAHH!", followed on landing by lots of swearing.  I quickly took the fact I was able to swear as a good thing, indicating that I hadn't hit my head or done anything too drastic to myself.  After gathering my thoughts and checking I could move my limbs I lay on my back and called Anna, then - thinking that the sky looked nice through the hole in the roof - took the photo at the start of this blog (conveniently I can now put a ladder up in that hole and need not risk a repeat performance).

I'd landed on my thigh mostly, scraping my elbow at some point on impact (the only immediately visible injury: a tiny graze on my right elbow).  Essentially, after the inherently unlucky moment of falling through the roof, I was very lucky.  Later I felt quite shaken, replaying the drop through the air and thinking of various horrible things that could have happened.  But none of them did.  And really (thankfully) the sun-room roof is only about 7 feet high.

I got myself home, and Anna drove me to the Minor Injuries Unit to be checked over.  The nurse said I seemed fine but said I was going to hurt and recommended taking painkillers.  I'd figured that much out but was glad to have anxiety about possible damage removed.  Being immobilised even for a short time was alarming, especially as I am a carer, and am absolutely bloody useless as a carer if I need help from Anna - who I am supposed to be helping - like I did for a day.  That drive to minor injuries was the first time Anna had driven in a long time, and now she is suffering increased pain as a result (this is why she mostly doesn't drive now).

So an alarming but quite comical episode (thanks to a "good" landing) but a reminder that I need to be even more careful.  If I get injured, not only will I be useless as a carer but I won't be much good as a self-builder either.

Spider, one of many similar ones encountered in the sun-room and in the loft.  On my screen now this is appearing more or less actual size. Now identified (with assistance from Andrew Douglas, thanks!) as Steatadoa Grossa - False Widow: http://www.uksafari.com/steatodagrossa.htm

Next time: structural engineers, selfbuild anxiety really kicks in, and the impossibility of starting the main roof work on time.  I've written too much already today.


  1. nice opinion.. thanks for sharing....

  2. The risk while doing your job is really great. Better be careful.
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