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:
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:
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?
From 21 May 2004 anyone who owns, manages or has responsibilities for a commercial premises which may contain asbestos will have either:
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:
How do I go about it?
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.
The HSE have produced a managing asbestos on line tool to help you, this can be accessed at Managing Asbestos (This link will open in a new window)
Further information and guidance can be found on the HSE Web Site: http://www.HSE.gov.uk/campaigns/asbestos/index.htm (This link will open in a new window) or from the HSE Publication 'The Management of Asbestos in Non-domestic Premises, Approved Code of Practice and Guidance', L127'.
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