Asbestos is a naturally occurring material that has been used for about 150 years on a large scale. Asbestos fibres are versatile and asbestos is ideal as a fire-proofing and insulation material.
The main types of asbestos that have been commercially used are:
- Crocidolite (blue)
- Amosite (brown)
- Chrysotile (white)
All types are dangerous but blue and brown are known to be more dangerous, however you can not identify the type of asbestos just by looking at the colour of it, you need a laboratory to properly identify the different types of asbestos.
Remember it is not always easy to tell if a product contains asbestos as modern asbestos-free materials often look similar to asbestos containing materials.
Where may it be found?
Asbestos was used in hundreds of different products and buildings from the 1950's to the mid-1980's and Asbestos Cement was used up until 1999 in a variety of different premises and materials. Any building that was constructed or had major refurbishment works between the 1950's and the mid-1980's is likely to contain some type of asbestos containing material.
The use of asbestos peaked between the 1960's and early 1970's so premises built or refurbished around that time are the most likely to contain some form of asbestos. Properties built since the mid-1980's are unlikely to contain asbestos in the fabric of the building and properties built since 1990 are extremely unlikely to contain asbestos anywhere in the building.
Types of asbestos materials that may be found in buildings include:
- Flat or corrugated sheets used mainly for garages and sheds.
- Cold water storage tanks.
- External drain water pipes and guttering.
- Soffit and facia boards.
- Lining cladding for fire protection.
- For internal partition walls.
It is currently estimated that up to 500,000 commercial, industrial and public buildings in the UK still contain some form of asbestos.
How can I tell if something contains asbestos?
Since 1976 British Manufacturers have put labels on their products to show they contain asbestos, and since 1986 all products containing asbestos carry the European label. The Supplier or the Manufacturer may also be able to tell you if their product contains asbestos.
Remember asbestos-containing products can look very similar to non-asbestos-containing products. If in doubt seek advice.
Why is it dangerous?
When asbestos materials become damaged or age, they can release fibres in to the air.
Breathing in asbestos fibres is dangerous. The fibres can be breathed deep in to the lungs, where they stay for a long time and cause possible damage and lung diseases, including cancer.
There is NO known danger associated with ingesting (eating or drinking) asbestos fibres from asbestos cement water supply pipes and / or storage tanks.
What must I do to comply with the law?
Anyone who owns, manages or has responsibilities for a commercial premises which may contain asbestos will have either:
- A legal duty to manage the risk from asbestos
- A duty to co-operate with whoever manages the risk from asbestos.
You should start work now on managing the risks from asbestos.
If you are the person in control of a building or if you are responsible for maintaining or repairing your premises you must:
- Find out if the building contains asbestos and what condition it is in
- Assess the risk; e.g. is it likely to release fibres or dust
- Make a plan to manage the risk.
How do I go about it?
Start with checking paperwork to find out what information you may have on your premises eg look at plans and any other documents.
- Contact anyone else who may have useful information on your premises; eg Architects, Builders and Contractors.
- Carry out an inspection of the building. You can use an Independent Expert or do it yourself if you simply assume materials contain asbestos.
- Record the results of the inspection and identify the parts of the building where asbestos may be located.
- Assess the risk of Asbestos Fibres being released in to the air, taking in to account the condition of the material and how likely it is to become damaged.
- Draw up a management plan and state which areas need to be sealed, encapsulated or removed and make sure you warn people coming in to work on the building to prevent accidental exposure.
- Carry out regular checks on the building to make sure the condition of the material has deteriorated.
- Keep the plan up to date to show any changes that could affect the risk.
This does not mean that you have to remove all asbestos in your premises. Asbestos is only a risk to health when in a poor condition or it is disturbed so that it releases fibres. Disturbance could occur through maintenance work or workplace activities that repeatedly damage the material e.g. a trolley or a forklift truck that scrapes against asbestos-insulating board.
Where damage to the asbestos is minor eg a crack in the material, it may be practical to repair or seal it and leave it in place if it is not going to be disturbed. Asbestos that is in a good condition and in a location where it will not be disturbed should be left in place and correctly managed. Anyone who would be likely to come into contact with the material must be notified of its presence, such as Builders or Contractors.
It should be remembered that the removal of asbestos in good condition that is not going to be disturbed would give rise to unnecessary risk and expense. If it is necessary to remove asbestos then for most work with asbestos insulation, asbestos coating and asbestos insulating board, it will need to be carried out by an HSE licensed contractor.
- If asbestos is in good condition it should be left alone.
- If asbestos is damaged, asbestos fibres and dust can be released.
- Breathing asbestos fibres and dust can be harmful.
- If you think you have asbestos containing products in your building or you are unsure - seek advice.
Further information and guidance can be found on the HSE Web Site: http://www.HSE.gov.uk/campaigns/asbestos/index.htm or from the HSE Publication 'The Management of Asbestos in Non-domestic Premises, Approved Code of Practice and Guidance', L127'.
Concerned about builders
If you have concerns about asbestos removal by contractors, contact the HSE who are the enforcing authority for construction work. For advice or to complain, please call 0345 300 9923 Monday-Friday 8.30-5.00pm.