The health hazards of exposure to asbestos fibres are severe. Repeated or prolonged exposure is linked to severe illnesses such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports over 5000 annual deaths in the UK from an asbestos-related diseases.
So how do you identify asbestos? And what do you do if you come across it?
Will My Property Have Asbestos?
Properties built before the ban on asbestos in 1999 may contain it. It was a fairly common material with a wide range of uses. Undamaged asbestos-containing materials that are unlikely to be disturbed pose the least risk. However, you will still need to understand the dangers of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres and how to protect against them.
Common Uses Of Asbestos
The best way to identify asbestos is to know where you may come across it. Though its uses are plentiful, there are some areas where you are most likely to encounter it. Below is an extensive (although not exhaustive) list of the most common uses you may come across asbestos-containing materials. Be sure to take extra care when working with or around these:
- Loose insulation in ceilings, roof voids, and firestop packing around cables between floors
- Thermal insulation (asbestos hard set lagging) applied to pipes and boilers
- Insulation board in ceiling tiles, partition walls, and wallboards.
- Asbestos boards above and below windows, firebreaks, and bath panels
- Gaskets and washers used in domestic hot water boilers, industrial power and chemical plants and strings used for sealing hot water radiators
- Asbestos cement in corrugated roofing sheets used for sheds
- Artex (decorative coatings such as textured wall & ceiling coating)
- Sprayed coatings used for thermal insulation and as fire protection on concrete beams
- Reinforced composites used as panels for cladding and thermoplastic flooring
- Bitumen, mastics, and resins:
- Bitumen products used for roofing felts and tiles, gutter linings, flashings and bitumen damp proof course (DPC)
- Bitumen mastics and adhesives used for wall coverings and floor tiles
- Asbestos resins used in the brakes and clutches of plant and machinery
How To Test For Asbestos
With asbestos, there are no obvious visual indicators, so you won’t be able to identify it without a thorough examination. As asbestos is typically mixed with other minerals, it often loses its natural colour in the final product making it harder to identify. In order to identify asbestos-containing materials, a sample must be analysed in an approved laboratory.
Samples are examined under a microscope to identify if asbestos is present. An analysis will reveal the type of asbestos where there are asbestos fibres.
What To Do If You Discover Asbestos
If you discover asbestos, it will require removal, or you will need to plan to work in a way that will not disturb it. Asbestos-containing materials only require removal if they are damaged or are likely to be disturbed. They should only be removed by those who have successfully completed the appropriate asbestos training and asbestos awareness courses. The removal contract will also require the correct license – different types of asbestos removal have different requirements. If you encounter asbestos or suspected asbestos-containing materials, do not touch it. Instead, you should isolate the area and seek the professional advice of a specialist asbestos survey provider.