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Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre used as a binder to provide rigidity for other materials such as cement. It is also fire resistant and was therefore was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.

Asbestos comes in several different types some of which are more dangerous than others however all types of asbestos are considered dangerous if the fibres are inhaled, as they can cause lung cancers. The risk of cancer increases with the number of fibres inhaled. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos. Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos containing material may release asbestos fibres, which can be inhaled into the lungs. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard. Fibre release is therefore most likely if for example, asbestos containing material is drilled into or sanded inadvertently releasing the fibres into the atmosphere.

If you think asbestos may be in your home, don't panic! Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibres. There is no danger unless fibres are released and inhaled into the lungs. Check material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don't touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage such as tears, abrasions, or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibres. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing, or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow. If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed. Before you have your house remodelled, find out whether asbestos materials are present.

If the asbestos material is in good shape and will not be disturbed, do nothing. If it is a problem, there are two types of corrections: repair and removal. Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material. Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibres together or coats the material so fibres are not released. Pipe, furnace, and boiler insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos safely. Covering (enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material that contains asbestos to prevent release of fibres. Exposed insulated piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket. With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make later removal of asbestos, if necessary, more difficult and costly. Repairs can either be major or minor.

  • Do keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos.
  • Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos material.
  • Do have removal and major repair done by people trained and qualified in handling asbestos. It is highly recommended that sampling and minor repair also be done by asbestos professionals.
  • Don't saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos materials. Removal is usually the most expensive method and should be the last option considered in most situations. This is because removal poses the greatest risk of fibre release. However, removal may be required when remodelling or making major changes to your home that will disturb asbestos material. Also, removal may be called for if asbestos material is damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired. Removal is complex and must be done only by a contractor with special training. Improper removal may actually increase the health risks.

For further information visit the Health and Safety Executive website at:

Because asbestos was used so extensively in buildings, the date of construction can be used to identify those properties that have a higher chance of containing ACM's. This approach must be applied with caution because:   Some asbestos products were used well after they were discontinued or banned; Refurbishments, alterations or repairs may have introduced ACM's into older buildings that may have been judged less likely to contain asbestos.

The general rule is to always leave asbestos alone, it's usually safe unless it's damaged or disturbed.
Do not use pressure washers or wire brushes to clean asbestos cement products as this will release fibres. It is best not to disturb this material at all. Paint indoor materials with an alkali resistant paint such as PVA emulsion, and never sand, drill or saw asbestos materials.

Always seek advice before thinking of removing asbestos and follow the basic rules below if carrying out asbestos cement removal work, which is really the only type of asbestos material you can with suitable precautions safely remove yourself.

Do not attempt to remove asbestos lagging, spray coatings or large areas of Insulation Board by yourself as these materials can only be safely removed by a licensed contractor. Sometimes it will be necessary for someone with suitable expertise to take a sample, for example to identify the type of asbestos.

Safe Asbestos Cement Removal

Asbestos cement is the commonest asbestos material you will come across in the form of flat or corrugated panels often used for garages, sheds and guttering. It can be safely removed by remembering these basic rules:-

  • Prepare the work area - remove any unnecessary items, cover the floor and surfaces with disposable polythene sheeting.
  • Wear protective clothing - disposable overall with hood, disposable paper face mask (designed for use with asbestos) and rubber or disposable gloves.
    - Damp down - use a plant sprayer or hosepipe but don't soak the area as this will make cleaning up more difficult.
  • Remove the asbestos without breaking it up.
  • Undo the bolts or cut them off on the end not in contact with the asbestos. Remove the sheets carefully, wrap them in heavy duty polythene sheeting or bags and seal with tape. Visually inspect the area and clear up any debris by hand - wipe down with disposable damp cloths. Never use a vacuum cleaner as this will just spread dust around.
  • Pick up polythene sheeting and remove protective clothing and dispose of both as asbestos waste.
  • Wash hands and face after the job is completed.

Asbestos has been subject to gradual and voluntary formal bans since 1969. It is only since 1999 that the importation, supply and use of all forms of ACM's have been banned. Blue and brown asbestos were banned in 1985; white asbestos banned in 1999. Sprayed asbestos ceased in 1974. Asbestos reinforced insulation boards were phased out in 1980.

Houses built since mid-1980s are unlikely to contain asbestos in the fabric, but may contain some white asbestos in cement products on the roof, etc.

Houses built after 1990 are very unlikely to contain any asbestos. Asbestos was last added to Artex (textured paint) on 1 August 1984 but non-asbestos versions were available from mid-70s.

Asbestos was used in insulating board until 1980 when manufacture ceased.

Asbestos in bitumen products and floor tiles was used until 1992.

Electric storage radiators - few post 1975 had any asbestos in them. Pre 1975 should be considered as likely to contain ACM's.  

ACM's are very common in non-traditional housing of all types

Asbestos is the most serious occupational health issue, in terms of fatalities, that the UK has ever faced. Asbestos was used so widely in construction products until comparatively recently that almost anyone carrying out building or maintenance work is potentially at risk from exposure to asbestos fibres. This is why the government brought in legislation, The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, to require those with responsibility for any maintenance activities to take effective action to manage the risk from asbestos in their buildings. This duty to manage is not about removing all asbestos from buildings. Rather, it is about finding where the asbestos is present, assessing the risk and, depending on the condition of the asbestos and whether it is likely to be disturbed, taking action to manage that risk both in the short and long term. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that up to 500,000 commercial, industrial and public buildings have asbestos materials in them.
All those responsible for buildings need to be made aware of the risks arising from asbestos and of how to comply with the duty to manage in a way that is proportionate to the risks.  

Everyone must take action even if all you have to do is to co-operate with the dutyholder.
If you are a duty holder you must:
  • find out whether your building contains asbestos, and what condition it is in;
  • assess the risk, e.g. if it is likely to release fibres;
  • make a plan to manage that risk.

Where do I start?
  • Do a desktop study to check out what you already know about your buildings, e.g. look at plans and other documents.
  • Contact anyone else who may already have useful information about the building, e.g. a surveyor, architect or contractor who knows the building.
  • Carry out an inspection of the building. You can do this in house, especially if you simply assume materials contain asbestos. Or use an independent expert if samples have to be analysed.
  • Record the results of the inspection, identifying the parts of the building where asbestos may be located.
  • Assess the risk of asbestos fibres being released into the air from the materials in those areas. Take into account the materials condition and how likely they are to be damaged or disturbed.
  • Draw up a management plan. State which areas, if any, need asbestos to be sealed, encapsulated or, as a last resort, removed. The key part of the plan is to warn people coming to work on the building, to prevent accidental exposure.

Managing asbestos:
The law largely concerns properties in commercial use, i.e. not owner occupied homes, but does include common areas in flats and homes under housing association control and makes more explicit laws regarding asbestos which have been in force for some time. The main requirement is for an inspection for the presence of asbestos or asbestos containing materials (ACM's) in all commercial properties in order that its condition can be monitored and also to prevent work being carried out unknowingly on an ACM.  
Background to the Legislation
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 include duties to protect those who came into contact with asbestos unknowingly or accidentally, such as maintenance workers who are often not aware that they are working on materials containing asbestos. The Regulations introduce a duty to manage the risk posed by asbestos containing materials, (ACM's), in non-domestic premises, but including the common areas of residential property. The definition of the duty holder as explained in the statutory instrument available from HMSO, (Her Majesty's Stationary Office), is as follows: every person who has, by virtue of a contract or tenancy, an obligation of any extent in relation to the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises or any means of access thereto or egress therefrom; The full text of the Regulations can be downloaded from the HSE website In brief the duty holder(s) is required to: Assess whether the premises contains asbestos Assess the risk from the asbestos Take action to minimise the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres There is an additional duty on all those involved to co-operate with the duty holder so far as is necessary to enable the dutyholder to comply with his duties under this regulation. These duties are underpinned by a new Approved Code of Practice The management of asbestos in non-domestic premises (L127) which backs up the Regulation and provides guidance to duty holders. There are also separate guidance documents on the new duty to manage A short guide to managing asbestos in premises (INDG223) which gives basic advice and A comprehensive guide to managing asbestos in premises (HSG227) which explains the full management process. Details are available from the HSE.

1.   Assess whether the premises contains asbestos. Take reasonable steps to identify ACM's by: Looking at existing plans   Consulting others e.g. Maintenance staff, employees   Completing a comprehensive inspection of the premises parts that are readily accessible.   If you are not sure if a material contains asbestos you must presume that it does unless you have strong evidence to the contrary. Alternatively you can arrange to have samples taken and analysed to confirm if asbestos is present, and in what form. There are three types of inspection available: Type 1 Presumptive Type 2 Sampling and Analysis Type 3 Major Refurbishment./Pre-demolition It is possible to commission a combination of inspection types for different areas of a building, the inspection must record the position and condition of the ACM's.
2.   Collate the information into an asbestos record.
3.   Prepare a risk assessment of fibre release from the ACM's. If the material is in good condition it is preferable to leave it in place and introduce a management system unless it will be disturbed by activities in the building. However if the ACM's are in poor condition encapsulation or removal may be required, (using licensed contractors if necessary). When performing the risk assessment factors such as; the nature of the clients business, traffic levels in the affected areas, impact risk, future plans for the building, the matrix the asbestos fibres are contained within eg. cement, vinyl floor tiles, or sprayed insulation should all be considered, in addition to the condition of the ACM's.
4.   The risk assessment is then used as the basis for a written management plan. The written plan should identify the parts of the premises concerned and the measures to be taken to manage the risk specified. If materials are to remain in place they should be monitored and maintained regularly. The management plan, including the information about the location and condition of the ACM's should be available to anybody liable to disturb the material, including the emergency services. The duty holder(s) are expected to update the plan regularly if there are reasons to suspect it is no longer valid, or if there has been a change in the premises, to make the relevant amendments.