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Why is asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos fibres are present generally in the environment in Great Britain so people are continually exposed to very low levels of fibres. However, a key factor in the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease is the total number of fibres breathed in. 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 developing an asbestos-related disease.

When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases which are responsible for around 4000 deaths a year. This is the number of deaths which have been proved to be linked to asbestos, however many are not conclusive so the number is likely to be much higher. There are four main diseases caused by asbestos: mesothelioma (which is always fatal), lung cancer (almost always fatal), asbestosis (not always fatal, but it can be very debilitating) and diffuse pleural thickening (not fatal).

Remember, these diseases will not affect you immediately but later on in life, so there is a need for you to protect yourself now to prevent you from contracting an asbestos-related disease in the future. It is also important to remember that people who smoke and are also exposed to asbestos fibres are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer.

Where can you find asbestos?

Please click here to view our interactive house


When am I at risk?

You are mostly at risk when:

  • You are working on an unfamiliar site
  • The building you are working on was built before the year 2000
  • Asbestos-containing materials were not identified before the job was started
  • Asbestos-containing materials were identified but this information was not passed on by the people in charge to the people doing the work
  • You don’t know how to recognise and work safely with asbestos
  • You know how to work safely with asbestos but you choose to put yourself at risk by not following proper precautions, perhaps to save time or because no one else is following proper procedures

Remember, as long as the asbestos is not damaged or located somewhere where it can be easily damaged it won’t be a risk to you.

  • You can’t see or smell asbestos fibres in the air.
  • The effects of asbestos take many years to show up – avoid breathing it in now.
  • Smoking increases the risk many times.
  • Asbestos is only a danger when fibres are made airborne


How can I be sure that I don’t come in to contact with asbestos?

If you work in any of the following occupations, and are working on a building built or refurbished before 2000, you may come in to contact with asbestos:

  • Heating and ventilation engineers
  • Demolition workers
  • Carpenters and joiners
  • Plumbers
  • Roofing contractors
  • Painters and decorators
  • Plasterers
  • Construction workers
  • Fire and burglar alarm installers
  • Shop fitters
  • Gas fitters
  • Computer installers
  • General maintenance staff eg caretakers
  • Telecommunications engineers
  • Building surveyors
  • Cable layers
  • Electricians

This list does not include all occupations where you may come in to contact with asbestos. Some of the places where you may find it can be found in our interactive diagram[1].

It’s not easy to tell whether a material contains asbestos from how it looks, and it needs to be properly identified in a specialist laboratory. But here are a few examples;

  • Asbestos used as packing between floors and in partition walls
  • Sprayed (‘limpet’) asbestos on structural beams and girders
  • Lagging on pipework, boilers, calorifiers, heat exchangers etc
  • Asbestos insulating board – ceiling tiles, partition walls, service duct covers, fire breaks, heater cupboards, door panels, lift shaft lining, fire surrounds, soffits etc.
  • Asbestos cement products such as roof and wall cladding, bath panels, boiler and incinerator flues, fire surrounds, gutters, rainwater pipes, water tanks etc.
  • Other products such as floor tiles, mastics, sealants, rope seals and gaskets (in pipework etc.), millboard, paper products, cloth (fire blankets, etc.) and bituminous products (roofing felt, etc)


How do I protect myself?

When working in a building:


  • Stop and ask if you are suspicious something may be asbestos or if you think the work might need to be carried out by a licensed contractor.
  • Follow the plan of work and the task guidance sheets; make sure you use the right sheet for the job
  • Make sure you take account of other risks such as work at height
  • Use your protective equipment, including a suitable face mask, worn properly
  • Clean up as you go – stop waste building up
  • Make sure waste is double-bagged and is disposed of properly at a licensed tip
  • Wash before breaks and going home


  • Use methods that create a lot of dust, like using power tools
  • Sweep up dust and debris – use a Type H vacuum cleaner or wet rags
  • Take home overalls used for asbestos work
  • Reuse disposable clothing or masks
  • Smoke
  • Eat or drink in the work area


What should those in charge of the job do?

They must:

  • Find out if asbestos-containing materials are present and plan the work to avoid disturbing these materials if possible
  • Ensure that anyone who is going to work on asbestos material is properly trained and is supervised
  • Know what work can be carried out on asbestos-containing materials, ie does this work need to be carried out by a contractor licensed by HSE?
  • Take account of other risks as well as asbestos, eg work at height, and take the precautions necessary to do the job safely
  • Use the equipment and method sheets and the right task sheet to make sure that the job is carried out properly and that exposure to asbestos is kept as low as possible
  • Prepare a plan of work, explaining what the job involves, the work procedures, and what controls to use
  • Provide you with the right equipment, which is clean, in good working order, and protects you against asbestos
  • Train you in using this equipment
  • Make sure the work area is inspected visually at the end of the job, to check it’s fit for reoccupation
  • Make arrangements for the safe disposal of any asbestos waste
  • Consult the health and safety representative (if there is one)


What does this have to do with my companies premises?

The Control of Asbestos at Works Regulations (CAWR) 2002 stated that from the 4th May 2004 all non-domestic premises must have in place an asbestos register known as regulation 4 “The duty to manage”.

This was emphasised more when the (CAWR)  2002 were superceeded by The Control of Asbestos Regulations (CAR) 2006 (L143). Along with the release of the updated regulations a separate approved code of practice and guidance note called “the management of asbestos in non domestic properties (L127) was also released.

Who is “the duty holder”?

Regulation 4 states that “the duty holder” means:

A: “Every person who has, by virtue of a contract or tenancy, any obligation of any extent in relation to the maintenance or repair of non domestic premises or any means of access or egress therefrom; OR”

B:  “In relation to any part of non-domestic premises where there is no such contract or tenancy, every person who has, to any extent, control of that part of those non-domestic premises or any means of access thereto or egress therefrom.”