Facts About Asbestos

Facts About Asbestos - AsbestosAsbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous silicate mineral which was used in a variety of useful products for hundreds of years, however, it is now known to be highly hazardous. Since 1992 it has been illegal to use asbestos to make new products in the UK. In 1999, the selling and fixing of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in the UK was banned.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Breathing in air containing asbestos fibres can lead to asbestos-related diseases; mainly cancers of the lungs and chest lining, and past exposure to asbestos can kill. However, asbestos is only a risk to health if asbestos fibres are released into the air and breathed in.

There are three main types of asbestos still found in premises: 'blue asbestos' (crocidolite), 'brown asbestos' (amosite) and 'white asbestos' (chrysotile). It is now illegal to use asbestos in the construction or refurbishment of any premises, but many thousands of tonnes of it were used in the past and much of it is still in place. As long as it is in good condition, and is not being or going to be disturbed or damaged, there is no risk. However if it is, it can become a danger to health, because asbestos fibres are released into the air and people can breathe them in.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who uses your premises - who disturbs asbestos that has deteriorated or has been damaged and is releasing fibres - can be at risk as they may breathe in asbestos fibres during their day-to-day work.

Where is asbestos found in buildings?

Some asbestos containing materials (ACMs) are more vulnerable to damage and more likely to give off fibres than others. In general, the higher the percentage of asbestos, the more easily the material can be damaged. Asbestos insulation and lagging can contain up to 85% asbestos and are most likely to give off fibres. Work with asbestos insulating board can result in equally high fibre release if power tools are used. Asbestos cement contains only 10-15% asbestos and will only give off fibres if badly damaged or broken.

The following ACMs are listed in order of fibre release ease, from high to low:

  • Moulded or preformed lagging - used in thermal insulation of pipes and boilers
  • Sprayed asbestos - used as fire protection in ducts, firebreaks, panels, partitions, soffit boards, ceiling panels and around structural steel work
  • Insulating boards - used for fire protection, thermal insulation, partitioning and ducts
  • Some ceiling tiles
  • Certain textured coatings
  • Vinyl or thermoplastic floor tiles
  • Millboard, paper and paper products - used for insulation of electrical equipment
  • Asbestos paper - used as a fire-proof facing on wood fibreboard
  • Asbestos cement products which can be fully or semi-compressed into flat or corrugated sheets, such as roofing and wall cladding, gutters, rainwater pipes and water tanks
  • Bitumen roofing material

What you need to know about the duty to manage asbestos

A duty to manage asbestos is included in the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations. It applies to you if you have maintenance and repair responsibilities for non-domestic premises, either through a contract or tenancy agreement or because you own the premises. The duty requires you to manage the risk from asbestos by:

  • Finding out if there is asbestos in the premises, its amount and what condition it is in
  • Presuming materials contain asbestos, unless you have strong evidence that they do not
  • Making and keeping an up-to-date record of the location and condition of the ACMs or presumed ACMs in your premises
  • Assessing the risk from the material
  • Preparing a plan that sets out in detail how you are going to manage the risk from this material
  • Taking the steps needed to put your plan into action
  • Reviewing and monitoring your plan and the arrangements made to put it in place
  • Providing information on the location and condition of the material to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb it

Anyone who has information on the whereabouts of asbestos in your premises is required to make this available to you as the duty holder. Those who are not duty holders but control access to the premises, have to co-operate with you in managing the asbestos.

Useful links

The Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center (please note this site is based in the US) 

Health and Safety Executive - Asbestos