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Asbestos can be found in many buildings and products, and is usually safe if left undisturbed. However, if asbestos particles are inhaled it can cause fatal diseases.
This page outlines the problems associated with asbestos, and the legal obligations and regulations relating to the handling and disposal of it.
Asbestos is the name for a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals that can be separated into fibres. The fibres are strong, durable, and resistant to heat and fire. They are also long, thin and flexible, so that they can even be woven into cloth.
Asbestos has been used in consumer, industrial, maritime, automotive, scientific and building products. This includes uses in commercial and industrial buildings, schools and hospitals.
There are three main types of asbestos, all of which are potentially dangerous:
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Asbestos fibres can pass into the lungs where they can stay for many years. These tiny fibres can remain in the lungs for so long that they can lead to the development of asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis (breathing difficulty) and mesothelioma (a type of cancer). There is no way to remove the fibres once they have reached the lungs and no cure for the diseases they cause.
Asbestos has been identified as one of the primary causes of occupational ill health in the second half of the twentieth century. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that asbestos-related diseases account for around 4,000 deaths a year in the UK.
As asbestos in buildings will be with us for many years, it is vital that we manage the risks from exposure.
Asbestos is more likely to be found in buildings built or refurbished before the year 2000. Anyone who is involved in building maintenance is potentially at risk if they disturb asbestos. The danger lies in any activity that disturbs the asbestos fibres, including removal, drilling, sanding and cutting.
Asbestos can be found in many parts of a building including:
As well as the moral duty of employers to protect employees and members of the public,
General Health and Safety Legislation covers all employers and workplaces.
In addition, there are two sets of regulations dealing specifically with asbestos:
The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002
These regulations place an obligation on employers to prevent exposure to asbestos. If this is not reasonably practicable, exposure should be reduced to the lowest level reasonably practicable.
They require employers to carry out a risk assessment before any work with asbestos is carried out.
More specifically, these regulations also require duty holders, (who can be building owners, facilities managers, tenants and others who have legal responsibilities for premises) to:
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006
Changes introduced by this legislation include:
To view the full text of the above legislation online, please follow the links under
Take a safety first approach to any maintenance work. Before any work takes place, assess the area for the possible presence of asbestos.
If the task could disturb asbestos fibres, special precautions will be required to protect workers. Carry out a basic survey to assess the condition of any material that may contain asbestos.
Any materials that are in poor or deteriorating condition may require you to take action, so check if it is asbestos, and if so, repair, seal or remove the material in order to control the risk.
Assess and manage the risks of any asbestos found on the premises by taking the following steps:
The results of these steps will determine how you manage the risks on your premises.
The duty to manage asbestos requires the preparation of a plan on how you intend to manage the risks from asbestos on the premises.
The plan should include how you intend to assess the potential risks from asbestos.
Gather as much information as possible on the amount, location and condition of the asbestos. Is it likely to be disturbed or is it in an area close to where people are working? Also consider whether any work is likely to be carried out in that area in the future.
The condition of the asbestos will influence whether it should be removed or left in place. If it is in good condition and unlikely to be damaged or disturbed the best option is probably to leave it where it is.
If it is in poor condition, or likely to be damaged or disturbed, you may need to consult with a specialist contractor to decide what action to take.
A list of Asbestos Contractors can be found on the Health and Safety Executive's
Asbestos pages (external site).
If you decide to leave it in place, record where it is present and monitor its condition regularly.
The information gathered from this exercise
must be held in a register for the premises, and
must be made available to anyone who is likely to be involved in carrying out work in areas where there is asbestos.
Do I have to remove all asbestos?
What should 'duty holders' do immediately about asbestos in our building?
How do I engage the services of an asbestos contractor?
We're refurbishing a factory. What information should I look for about disturbing asbestos?
What kind of work creates asbestos dust?
Free resources from Healthy Working Lives Links below are to publications pages giving options to download these resources:
Free guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
The HSE provides extensive information on asbestos, including factsheets for workers and guides for safety representatives. All are available to download free from the
HSE Asbestos Information page (external site).
Priced asbestos guidance from the Health and Safety Executive
Note – all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to order these resources:
The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 (external site)
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 (external site)
POLISH-Asbestos Guide RUSSIAN-Asbestos Guide PORTUGUESE-Asbestos Guide
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