Advice & Guidance

Harmful Materials

Historic buildings can and do contain substances that may be hazardous to health. Asbestos and bird droppings are among the most common substances that you might expect to find whilst carrying out maintenance tasks but it is important to consider your own particular circumstances. The Health and Safety Executive provides a considerable amount of guidance on harmful materials, much of which can be downloaded from their website.

Asbestos: A great many buildings still contain asbestos and it is not easy to tell whether the asbestos is likely to be harmful or not. Treat all suspected asbestos products with caution and do not disturb them. The removal of asbestos is a task for trained personnel. You should also make yourself aware of The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 as this legislation places a duty to manage asbestos on those who have responsibly for non-domestic premises.


Bird droppings: Bird droppings can make walking surfaces hazardous, particularly in wet weather. They may also disguise patches of rotten flooring if they are allowed to accumulate to any degree. Although there is a potential risk of disease from direct contact with birds and their droppings small amounts may be removed with care. Heavy-duty rubber gloves, a facemask and goggles will be necessary as a minimum level of protection. You should also make sure that you clean your hands thoroughly if you have been exposed to bird droppings. If there are more substantial deposits, a specialist contractor with the appropriate equipment should be engaged. You should also seek advice on how to prevent the entry of birds from your professional advisor.

Personal Protective Equipment

Before starting any task, it is important to make sure that you have the correct equipment. It is generally sensible to wear old clothes and an overall or boiler suit when tackling cleaning or maintenance.

Personal protective equipment

Good stout non-slip footwear is also recommended and boots with steel toecaps may be advisable. Sturdy gloves will be needed when cleaning out gutters and downpipes, and heavy-duty rubber gloves will be essential when dealing with drains. Safety goggles or glasses are also useful to prevent dirt and grit irritating the eyes. If you are working in dusty situations or where there are pigeon droppings a good quality facemask is also necessary. You might find a safety helmet or ‘hard hat' is useful as these provide some protection against knocks when working in spaces with low headroom.

Further Information

© SPAB 2012