How To Spot and Identify Asbestos:
The use of asbestos-containing materials was not fully banned until 1999. However, there are still millions of buildings and facilities which contain asbestos materials today.
If you are unsure if your building contains asbestos, you should presume it does, until you have undertaken the necessary checks, detailed in the article below.
The importance of identifying Asbestos
While you’ve likely heard of the dangers asbestos can have to your health, do you know how to identify the material? Are you confident you could describe what asbestos is? This is why asbestos awareness is so important.
When you’re managing and developing a property, you must thoroughly understand the hazards you or any others in the building may face.
Asbestos is often mixed with other materials making it hard to identify.
If you demolish, repair or drill into walls and ceilings that contain asbestos, you’ll disturb dangerous fibres, making them airborne and putting yourself and others in danger.
Therefore as you may work in buildings where asbestos could be present or you have a chance of encountering asbestos during the course of your work, you will need to know what you can do to reduce your risk of exposure.
What Is Asbestos?
Firstly, let’s look at what the fibre is. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is found throughout the world and is obtained from asbestos bearing rocks that are crushed to extract the fibres.
Due to its properties, such as very high strength, heat, electricity & sound properties, It became one of the most valuable and popular resources in the construction industry, builders commonly incorporated asbestos products during the construction of houses and commercial properties around the mid 20th century.
Why is Asbestos dangerous?
On the surface, asbestos is an impressive building material. There are six types, but there are 3 types that were commonly used, all of which have different properties. Up until 1999, asbestos was commonly used as an insulator, or builders added it to cement, plastic and other materials to strengthen them.
Whilst asbestos can be found in many products and materials in buildings it does not pose a threat to health unless the asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, damaged and fibres become airborne or ACMs are in poor condition.
Asbestos fibres are long-lasting and can become embedded in the lungs for many years. Over time, the stuck fibres cause scarring, inflammation, and eventually severe damage and breathing difficulties. Cancer and life-threatening lung conditions are the most severe progressive diseases caused by asbestos exposure and neither is curable.
Will My Property Have Asbestos?
If your property is built before 2000, there may be asbestos present in your building. It is possible that asbestos was used in materials in the construction of the building. When asbestos is undamaged, in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed, this has a lesser risk to you and the building’s occupants.
However, you’ll need to understand how to protect yourself from the risk of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres and show you how to comply with health and safety legislation.
The most common places you will find asbestos in properties
- Asbestos Cement – Typically used for Corrugated Roofing Sheets for garden sheds, outhouses and Boiler Flue Pipes
- Asbestos Textiles such as – Ropes, Yarns and Cloths -. Ropes were used as seals on boiler doors and in many types of plant and machinery. Cloths include fire-resistant blankets, mattresses and protective curtains, gloves, aprons, overalls etc.
- Decorative Coatings such as textured wall & ceiling coating sometimes referred to as Artex
- Sprayed Coatings used as fire protection on concrete beams and used for thermal insulation.
- Reinforced Composites – which were used as panels, for cladding and for thermoplastic flooring. They were also used for toilet cisterns, seats, and windowsills.
- Bitumen, Resins and Mastics:
- Bitumen Products: These products were used for roofing felts and shingles (roof tiles), gutter linings, flashings and bitumen damp proof course (DPC)
- Resins: Asbestos resins were commonly used in the manufacture of brakes and clutches in plant and machinery.
- Mastics: Bitumen mastics and adhesives were used for floor tiles and wall coverings.
- Loose insulation, used in ceilings, roof voids, firestop packing around cables between floors.
- Thermal insulation – applied to pipes and boilers (asbestos hard set lagging).
- Manufactured, pre-formed sections were also widely used as insulation to pipes, boilers and steam vessels.
- Asbestos Insulation Board – used for Ceiling tiles Partition walls and wallboards, Boards above and below windows, Firebreaks, Soffit boards, Bath panels, Boarding in lofts
- Gaskets, Washers & Strings – Gaskets and washers were used in domestic hot water boilers, industrial power and chemical plants. Strings were used for sealing hot water radiators.
How Do I Detect Asbestos?
There are no obvious visual indicators of asbestos and you won’t identify it without a thorough examination.
Asbestos is usually mixed with other minerals to make products and so the natural colours of the asbestos types are not normally visible in the finished product.
Identification of ACMs can therefore only be made by taking a sample of the material and analysing it in an approved laboratory.
Testing for asbestos
Approved laboratories will examine asbestos samples underneath a microscope, so they can identify whether asbestos fibres are present. Additionally, analysts will be able to reveal which type of asbestos the sample contains.
If you suspect your property may contain asbestos, It may require a survey or inspection of the specific areas by a qualified asbestos surveyor.
What to do if your property contains asbestos
If asbestos (or presumed asbestos) is present then it may have to be taken care of by suitably trained workers and possibly licensed contractors. Or the work planned in a way to avoid contact or disturbance of the ACM.
For ongoing use and maintenance of buildings, an Asbestos Management Survey is required. For refurbishment and demolition, a Refurbishment or Demolition Survey is required.
They all have different purposes and different levels of inspection. However, asbestos surveys cannot be 100% accurate and there may be an area that was concealed or inaccessible at the time of the survey. So you must always be vigilant and be aware that ACMs may be discovered during your work.
How Do I Remove Asbestos?
Asbestos-containing materials should only be removed if it is damaged or likely to be disturbed.
Asbestos should only be removed by those who are fully trained to do so, which is another reason why an asbestos awareness course is essential. Different types of asbestos removal require different types of licences that the removal contractor must hold. Should you come across any suspected asbestos-containing materials, you should not touch or disturb them, isolate the area and seek specialist help such as an asbestos surveying company who can advise the best cause of action.
Training in asbestos awareness
If you would like to learn about the properties of asbestos, where it has been used in buildings and when it may be present a risk to you, you can take our online asbestos awareness training course for just £14.00 + VAT
This will help you to protect yourself from the risk of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres and show you how to comply with health and safety legislation.