Working With Asbestos
Asbestos can be found in any building built before the year 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals etc.) and causes around 5000 deaths every year.
Why Is Asbestos Dangerous?
When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos-related lung cancer. These diseases will not affect you immediately; they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything. This is why it is important that you protect yourself now.
There are 3 main types of asbestos still found in premises. These are commonly called:
- Blue Asbestos (crocidolite)
- Brown Asbestos (amosite)
- White Asbestos (chrysotile)
All of them are dangerous, but blue and brown asbestos are more hazardous than white. You cannot identify them just by their colour.
More information on where you can find asbestos in industrial (below left) and residential (below right) buildings is available from the HSE website.
An industrial property that highlights where asbestos may be found
A residential property that highlights where asbestos may be found
What You Need To Do When Working With Asbestos
Before starting work you need to check what asbestos is present, in commercial properties there should be a plan/register – ask to see it. You need to check that the plan covers the area of the building that you will be working in, and if you are doing refurbishment work that it includes a survey that tells you what types of asbestos is present and its condition.
If there is no register or survey or the report is not clear – do not start work. Alternatively, you can assume that any material you need to disturb does contain asbestos. The client also needs to see your plan of work to understand what work you are going to do, and how. They must also tell you where any asbestos containing materials (or materials presumed to contain asbestos) are, that you are likely to meet, and this information should be specific.
Everyone who works with, or may disturb asbestos, must be properly trained (including the self-employed).
What Is The Difference Between Non-Licensed And Licensed Asbestos Work?
Some materials are lower risk and you can work on them providing you take the right safety precautions – this is known as non-licensed asbestos work.
Non-licensed work includes work on asbestos-containing textured coatings and asbestos cement.
Is it notifiable non-licensed work?
All non-licensed work needs to be carried out with the appropriate controls in place. However, for some types of work, employers must meet additional requirements. This is known as notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW), and requires employers to:
- notify work with asbestos to the relevant enforcing authority
- designate (identify) areas where the work is being done
- ensure medical examinations are carried out
- maintain registers of work (health records)
To decide if the work is NNLW, you will need to consider the type of work you are going to carry out, the type of material you are going to work on and its condition.
More information is available on the NNLW section of the HSE website (Opens in a new window or downloads a file).
Some materials are too dangerous for you to work on and only a licensed asbestos contractor can carry out these jobs – this is known as licensed asbestos work.
Do not touch the following materials, they should only be worked on by a licensed asbestos contractor:
- Asbestos loose fill insulation
- Asbestos sprayed coating, known as limpet
- Pre-formed insulation e.g. asbestos pipe lagging
- Asbestos insulating board (AIB) e.g. removing ceiling tiles or panels, where the job takes more than two hours from start to finish
- Large amounts of asbestos-containing debris or material e.g. clearing up after a fire, flood or water leak
The HSE website also has a page listing all the Asbestos Essentials (Opens in a new window or downloads a file) for advice and information for those carrying out non-licensed work.
Three simple things will help keep you safe when doing asbestos work:
- Keep dust down
- Use the right kit
- Clean up properly