Asbestos is a term used to describe a set of fibrous minerals that are divided into two main groups: serpentine and amphibole. You can read more about their characteristics by visiting our 'top 9 questions on asbestos answered' blog post.
Asbestos was a popular material due to its flexibility and resistant properties. It was used in tiles, insulation boards or roofing panels.
Exposure to asbestos fibres by inhalation can have fatal consequences such as a risk of developing lung cancer or a chronic lung condition called asbestosis. You can find out more about what asbestos exposure is and when it can happen by reading our blog on the 'top 9 questions on asbestos answered'.
Unfortunately, asbestos does not have a smell and cannot be identified by visual examination. However, if you are worried that your house contains asbestos, there are a few steps you can take:
The most hazardous type of asbestos, known as amphibole asbestos, was banned in the UK in 1985. If your house was built before that year, it is possible that asbestos-containing materials were used.
The next step is checking for damages. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines, asbestos materials are not considered dangerous unless their fibres are released due to disturbance. Therefore, you should make sure you regularly check for affected areas in your house, such as abrasions, tears and water damage. If you find an area that looks damaged, do not try to touch it. Any attempt to remove asbestos on your own increases the risk of exposure to the fibres which, again, can be fatal.
An asbestos survey is carried out by an expert who will first gather information about your house, such as the year it was built in and whether it went through renovations or repairs which might have disturbed the asbestos. The next part of the inspection will include a visual analysis where the asbestos inspector searches for household materials that might contain asbestos. After a sample has been collected, it will be sent to a specialist laboratory accredited by UKAS (The United Kingdom Accreditation Service), where it will be tested using transmission electron microscopes that can identify whether asbestos fibres are present and what type they are. Testing will be followed by a report that details the extent of damage and further steps to be taken.
If the asbestos-containing material is in poor condition, you might be advised to have it removed. In this case, you will have to contact an Asbestos Abatement Contractor.
All removal work must be carried out under The Control of Asbestos Regulation (2012). It should be undertaken only by a licensed contractor who is required to prepare a detailed written plan of the removal process. You can contact the Health and Safety Executive or the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association for a list of contractors with the proper certification.
Before the removal can be carried out, the area around the asbestos has to be cleared to avoid contaminating the furniture, clothes, etc. Walls and items that cannot be removed must be covered with polythene sheeting. All employees are required to use a class H vacuum and wear protective clothing and respirators at all times when in contact with the affected area. At the end of the work, the contractor should provide a written note outlining what procedures are followed.
After the work is finished, you should contact a specialist who can perform air monitoring to ensure asbestos has been removed and assess whether the clean-up and removal were carried out according to the correct procedures.
If you’d like to learn more about asbestos removal please read our summary of HSE guidance: HSG248 Asbestos: The Analysts’ Guide Revised
Removal of asbestos might not always be the safest option. If the damage is not severe, a professional might recommend repairing methods.
Encapsulation (sealing) of asbestos is a less invasive process that involves applying a protective layer such as an elastomeric paint, plasterboard or cloth over the affected area. This minimises the risk of disturbing asbestos and prevents the release of fibres into the air.
Enclosing involves covering the asbestos-containing materials to prevent the release of fibres. For example, insulated pipes might be wrapped with a jacket.
Encapsulation and enclosing are often better options than removal because they are less expensive and do not require material disposal. However, you should always contact a professional to carry out a risk assessment to determine which method is the best choice.
Commodious offer a range of health and safety courses, including an IATP accredited Asbestos Awareness certificate. Use the link below to find out more about this course, or if you need an asbestos awareness certificate to work on-site: