This article is an introductory post, not intended to be a complete source. If you suspect you have asbestos, or have concerns, then identification and advice should be sought by an experienced and licensed expert/company.
Asbestos was used widely in the UK construction industry until 1999 when it was fully banned. (It was used primarily between 1930-1980, but particularly from the 1960’s). Some use continued up until 1999, but less and less from the early 1990’s when it was being phased out. If your house is more than 20 or so years old it therefore could have been used on your house when it was built, or during any refurbishment or renewal if it’s older.
Asbestos was used in thermal and fire insulation primarily, but also as a strengthening additive in many other sheeting materials such as roofing and wall sheets, guttering, floor tiles, textured or ‘artex’ coatings, ceiling tiles, felts, roof slates, bath panels, soffit boards, fire surrounds, ironing boards, fire blankets, cooker hoods, cold water tanks, fire door linings, boiler cupboard doors, ducts, warm air heating systems, storage heaters and many other areas.
Its seemingly miracle properties of availability, strength, and being fireproof and waterproof at the same time ensured its use throughout many forms of construction and other industries also. Unfortunately it is directly responsible for causing diseases like mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer and others. Symptoms can take decades to develop, and there is no cure for these conditions.
It is most dangerous in an airborne fibre scenario, being breathed in, easily caused by cutting, drilling, breaking up rigid asbestos containing materials (ACMs) or disturbing fibre asbestos insulation and lagging.
Even after the ban over 20 years ago, due to its long life and likely position in buildings it is very likely to come across it in many building projects. Working with, removing and disposing of ACM can fall under two categories, licensed work and unlicensed work. Generally speaking work on asbestos-cement products or collecting some samples to identify, or very small short duration tasks would not require a licence. Loose materials, larger jobs or removing sprayed materials where fibres are easy to be made airborne definitely require an experienced licensed contractor and licence from the HSE.
All tradespeople and contractors should be familiar with these requirements, and be rightly cautious, but employers and building owners have a duty of care also to notify and provide safe working environments. As the danger is not imminent there is a real concern that tradespeople brush off the risk and push on with work. Allowing proper time and funding to undertake any risk assessments, proper planning and any identifying tests or inspections all fall under the duties of an employer (the building owner/client in most domestic cases). The actual testing and such can be by a professional of course, but the building owner must allow time and funds to carry out such tests and identify any results to any tradespeople working on the building.
Further reading: The full HSE publication on Managing and working with asbestos, Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012
Like most aspects of health and safety, early and planned preparation is the key. Even before design work commences there is no harm in undertaking an inspection to identify.