Asbestos is the largest single cause of fatal disease caused by
work in this country. Although almost all the deaths and ill-health
related to asbestos today are due to exposures that happened
several decades ago, anybody who is likely to come into contact
with asbestos needs to be particularly careful.
Asbestos can be found in most commercial buildings built between
1950 and 1980, and many residential premises. It was used as
insulation and lagging, and as a building material. Today it is
only still used in brake pads and clutch linings as there is no
effective, safer alternative.
Anybody involved in maintenance of property must be aware of the
potential to expose and disturb asbestos. Those responsible for
buildings must assess them to determine whether the presence of
asbestos is likely.
There are strict regulations concerning the removal of asbestos,
and its disposal. Removal of the most harmful types must be
undertaken by licensed contractors. Other asbestos – containing
materials must be carefully removed and bagged. They must be
disposed of at special waste sites. Building Managers, main
contractors and householders all have responsibilities to ensure
this is carried out safely and in accordance with the
The fibres released within asbestos dust are very fine and can
lodge deep within the lung if breathed in. Once there, they can
cause local irritation or, in a small number of cases, cause
asbestos or lung cancer which cannot be treated. Asbestos cannot
cause harm through being swallowed or skin contact, and is
therefore only a hazard in its dusty form.
Asbestos in Buildings
Many thousands of tonnes of asbestos were used in buildings until
1985. Its most common uses were:
- Sprayed asbestos in ceiling voids and structural
- Pre-formed coatings and lagging on pipes and
- Fire protection in ducts, partitions, soffits
- Insulating Boards
- Ceiling tiles
- Floor tiles
- Corrugated roofing sheets, rainwater goods and
- Textured finishes.
People responsible for buildings must identify
the asbestos, and assess it for risk. It may be best left alone, or
it may need coating, or it may require removal. In any
circumstance, if works are required on, or in the vicinity of, the
material, a risk assessment must be carried out and control
measures implemented in order to protect the workforce and the
working environment. The assessment must include disposal
arrangements. Detailed information concerning safety
measures when working with asbestos, and the legal requirements,
are contained in HSE Guidance.
Asbestos in the Home
The most common use of asbestos in the home between the 1950’s and
- Insulating board-ducts, panels, ceiling tiles,
- Lagging – old pipes and boilers (mainly in
- Sprayed coatings in the boiler houses and lift
shafts of flats
- Asbestos cement products – corrugated shed
roofs, gutters, downpipes, soffits, water tanks, roofing
- Domestic equipment – iron stands, oven door
seals, fire blankets
- Floor tiles
- Textured finishes
Asbestos has not been used in any domestic
situation or equipment since 1985.
The Environmental Health Department can give you general advice on
what to do with asbestos, or suspected asbestos, within your home.
If you are a home owner, you will have to pay for its
identification and treatment or removal, if you decide to do
Undamaged asbestos is often best left where it is, because the act
of removal can lead to higher levels of fibres. If there is slight
damage, flaking or dust, the material can often be sealed or
Asbestos materials that are badly damaged and releasing dust should
be removed by licensed contractors. Do not attempt to do any work
on these materials yourself which involves breaking or cutting
them. Anybody carrying out work must minimise dust by wetting the
material, using hand tools, avoiding scraping the surface, avoiding
cutting whenever possible, and vacuuming dust as it is produced
with an industrial Type H vacuum cleaner. They must wear a suitable
mask and disposable overalls, and enclose the working area.
Licensed contractors and building contractors must remove the waste
they produce from site. Asbestos waste is special waste and
particular rules apply to its carriage and disposal.
Householders who wish to dispose of asbestos cement products can
take them directly to a special waste site.
They must telephone first in order to find out how the waste should
be packaged. Asbestos waste of any kind cannot be accepted at the
Civic Amenity Site (Tidy Tip).
Further information can be obtained from Environmental Health, the
HSE, or the Environment Agency (for disposal queries) 03708 506
506. HSE Info line: 0845 345 0055, or HSE Books, P.O. Box 1999,
Sudbury, Suffolk, Tel. 01787 881165.