Asbestos

Asbestos is a hazardous natural mineral fibre. Because its fibres are strong and resistant to heat it has been used in a wide range or buildings and products, often for fireproofing. Properties built after the mid 1980s are unlikely to contain asbestos.

Why asbestos is dangerous

When asbestos is damaged, the fibres can be released into the air. If these fibres are breathed in, they can cause lung diseases. People who have worked with asbestos, or had contact with someone who worked with asbestos, are most likely to be affected.

Asbestos cement products are considered relatively low risk and are unlikely to release high level of fibres unless they are damaged by extreme abrasion or drilling.

Where asbestos is found

Building materials containing asbestos were widely used from 1930 to 1980. Houses and flats built during this time might contain it. It is not easy to tell whether a product contains asbestos just by looking.

In the home asbestos may be found in:

  • insulating board – particularly common in 1960s and 1970s housing
  • lagging – widely used in public buildings and flats built in the 1960s and 1970s, usually found in boiler rooms and heating plants
  • sprayed coating – used for fire protection of structural steel during the 1960s, mainly used in service ducts or lift shafts
  • asbestos cement products – found in many types of building as flat sheets for roofing and cladding, often used for garages and sheds

What to do if you suspect you have asbestos in your home

If asbestos is in good condition and not likely to be damaged, you do not need to remove them. To do so would lead to fibres in the air. If you are planning improvements to your home, you should inform contractors of the suspected or actual presence of asbestos. 

Do not carry out DIY work on sprayed asbestos, lagging or insulating boards – this must be done by a licensed asbestos removal contractor. 

Precautions you should take when working with other asbestos materials:

  • wear protective overalls (disposable overalls that can be thrown away afterwards)
  • wear a disposable face mask (‘CE’ marked to EN 149 standard with FFP2 filters)
  • keep the asbestos material wet to reduce the amount of dust produced
  • work outside if possible
  • do not let other people in the work area
  • do not drill, cut or disturb the asbestos
  • use hand tools rather than power tools
  • use an industrial vacuum cleaner to clear the dust (to standard BS 5415 (Type H))

Removing asbestos

Asbestos materials that are badly damaged can release dust and should be removed. Some materials high in asbestos content, such as sprayed asbestos, lagging or insulating boards, must be removed by contractors with special licences. 

There is a special area at the recycling centre (tip) for the disposal of asbestos cement. You must contact the centre before taking asbestos there. Small amounts of wast should be wetted and placed in a strong plastic bag for disposal. Large asbestos cement sheets should not be broken up. They should be wrapped in polythene and disposed as asbestos waste. 

Asbestos materials should never be put in as ordinary domestic waste.

The property owner is responsible for the safe disposal of asbestos. Any contractors employed by you should comply with all relevant legislation enforced by the Health and Safety Executive.