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
Asbestos in the Home
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.
How to manage an asbestos problem?
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.
Asbestos do's and don'ts for the
- Do keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that
may contain asbestos.
- Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos
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.
If I have Asbestos in my home what
should I do?
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
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
Commercial Premises & Residential Common Parts
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.
What do I need to do?
Everyone must take action even if all you have to do is to co-operate with
If you are a duty holder you must:
Where do I start?
- find out whether your building contains asbestos, and what condition it is
- assess the risk, e.g. if it is likely to release fibres;
- make a plan to manage that risk.
- 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
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.
What do I have to do as a duty holder?
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
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.
Download these useful HSE advice leaflets (Adobe PDF
Use of cleaning rags
Wetting the working area
Personal protective equipment
Removing a fire blanket
Removing bituminous claddings
Removing bituminous products
Removing floor tiles
Removing paper linings