What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a fibrous material that occurs naturally in the environment that has been used extensively in building materials since the 1950's. It was used for a variety of purposes such as an insulator, fireproofing and protecting against corrosion.

If you work in a building built before 2000, asbestos may be found in materials such as ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, boilers and sprayed coatings. Asbestos materials in good condition are safe unless asbestos fibres become airborne, which happens when materials are damaged.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

People are exposed to very low levels of asbestos fibres which occur naturally in the environment. However, working on or near damaged asbestos-containing materials or breathing in high levels of asbestos fibres, which may be many hundreds of times that of environmental levels could increase your chances of getting an asbestos-related disease.

Diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer are responsible for around 4000 deaths a year and are by far the biggest cause of work related deaths in the UK.

Who is at risk?

Tradesmen such as joiners, electricians and plumbers and any building and maintenance workers who routinely disturb the fabric of buildings as part of their work are most at risk from exposure to asbestos-containing materials.

The Duty to Manage Asbestos

Under regulation 4 of The Control of Asbestos Regulations (2012), the dutyholder (those who manage non-domestic premises) are required to take steps to identify if there are any asbestos-containing materials in their premises. This can normally be achieved through the use of an asbestos survey. The business is then required to manage any asbestos so that it does not become a problem and may need to make arrangements for removal of any material that is causing a hazard.

For further information on your responsibilities as a duty holder, see HSE: Duty to manage asbestos.

For other information on all aspects of asbestos, see the HSE web site