Home mechanics and asbestos (advisory)

Home mechanic servicing may expose you to asbestos fibres, particularly when working on brake pads or shoes, gaskets and clutch plates.

The basics

The hazard presented by asbestos is its fibres, which, if inhaled, can lodge in the lungs and cause chronic diseases.

For more information about the potential health effects of asbestos exposure see the HealthEd website.

HealthEd website — All About Asbestos(external link)

Prohibition on the importation of ACPs

The prohibition on the importation of asbestos containing products (ACPs) came into effect in New Zealand on 01 October 2016, meaning all vehicles and replacement vehicle components imported into New Zealand after this date must now be asbestos-free.

However, older components may still contain asbestos. The Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016 apply to all workplaces where work involving asbestos is being completed.

Risks of asbestos-containing vehicle parts

Asbestos-containing:

  • brake pads, brake shoes and clutch plates suffer wear during use, leaving a coating of asbestos fibre dust on the component and surrounding parts
  • cylinder head and exhaust gaskets can become friable (powdery) with heat, and release fibres when disturbed.

Dry brushing any of these components, or even tapping them, can release large quantities of asbestos fibres into the air. Using compressed air to blow dust off components will make asbestos fibres airborne. These fibres may spread across a large area, and remain airborne for many hours after the job is finished, meaning they may pose a risk other people.

Precautions to take

If you can’t confirm your vehicle is asbestos-free through identifying marks, service records or supplier details, you should take precautions when undertaking work on the vehicle.

If you're concerned about exposure, we recommend having your brakes or clutch serviced at a commercial automotive shop. They will follow the safe work methods required by the regulations.

If you do choose to work on a vehicle that may involve ACPs yourself, use this checklist to minimise the safety risks associated with asbestos-containing motor vehicle components:

  • Don't use compressed air for cleaning. Compressed air blows dust into the air.
  • Don't clean brakes or clutches with a dry rag, brush (wet or dry), or garden hose that can raise fibres.
  • Don't use an ordinary wet/dry vac without a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to vacuum dust.
  • Wear a mask (P2 rated) to protect against any fibres that are raised.
  • Wear overalls (ideally disposable), and change into clean clothes before going inside the home.
  • Wash soiled clothes separately, without disturbing any dust, to minimise exposure to others in your household.
  • It’s good practice to screen/confine areas where asbestos-related work is being done, to limit spread of any fibres generated and keep others away. (Businesses tend to use screens/curtains or plastic sheeting for this.)
  • Minimise exposure to others by keeping bystanders, as well as items such as phones, food and toys, away from the work area.
  • Where possible, use pre-ground, ready-to-install parts.
  • If a brake or clutch lining must be drilled, grooved, cut, bevelled or lathe-turned, use low speeds and moisture as a fine mist to keep down the amount of dust created.
  • If available, use machinery with a local exhaust dust collection system equipped with HEPA filtration to prevent dust exposures and work area contamination.
  • Double-bag the old parts, and dispose of asbestos-containing products or other contaminated dusts and waste appropriately. Most councils are set up for asbestos disposal these days.

Recognised safe cleaning methods for brakes and clutches

Wet Wipe Method

This method involves using a spray bottle or other device capable of delivering a fine mist of water, or amended water (water with a detergent), at low pressure to wet all brake and clutch parts. The brakes can then be wiped clean with a cloth.

The following specialist cleaning equipment can be used if available.

Low Pressure/Wet Cleaning Method

This specially designed low-pressure spray equipment wets down the brake assembly and catches the runoff in a special basin to prevent airborne brake dust from spreading in the work area.

Negative-Pressure Enclosure/HEPA Vacuum System Method

This type of enclosure and vacuum system has a special box with clear plastic walls or windows, which fits tightly around a brake or clutch assembly to prevent asbestos exposure.