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What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos, it’s a word that we’ve all probably heard, but is something that many people surprisingly have very little knowledge of. Many people roughly know what asbestos is or is related to, but don’t know just how dangerous it can be. 

This piece will introduce you to what Asbestos actually is, the different types of Asbestos that can be found, and just how dangerous Asbestos can actually be. For those looking to gain a valuable insight into the world of Asbestos and how to stay safe in its presence, this post will provide a thorough view into how this can be done, to help you improve your asbestos awareness. 

An Introduction To Asbestos

While you’ve likely heard of the threats asbestos can have to your health, do you know how to identify the material? Are you confident you could describe what asbestos is? When you’re managing and developing property, you must thoroughly understand the hazards you face. If you demolish or disrupt walls and ceilings that contain asbestos, you’ll send dangerous fibres airborne without realising.

If you’re responsible for handling or installing building materials, it is non-negotiable that you know how to spot asbestos. You should undergo online asbestos awareness training courses to ensure you’ll act responsibly. Here’s a complete guide detailing the harm asbestos can cause, including the places you’re likely to uncover fibres. Keep reading to learn how to protect yourself and building occupants adequately.

In this post, we will be taking a detailed look at what asbestos actually is, what it can do, what it was previously used for, why it is no longer used in the construction of buildings and the risks posed to human life through the use of asbestos. This piece is aimed at learners, homeowners, landlords, health and safety professionals and DIY enthusiasts to ensure a thorough knowledge of asbestos throughout the construction industry.

So, What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre that was widely used in construction and other industries until approximately 1974 when the use of asbestos was banned in construction of new buildings in the UK, followed by the banning of sprayed Asbestos for the same use in 1986. Asbestos,Warning,Sign,,Set,Of,Six,Naturally,Occurring,Silicate,Minerals

Asbestos is a natural, durable and fire-resistant mineral extracted from rocks that was regularly utilised as a strong and reliable building tool, and could be found in many different types of insulation and structural walls of buildings from the past century.

Builders commonly incorporated asbestos during the construction of houses and commercial properties around the mid 20th century as a result of the strength, low price and the ease of access to asbestos. Asbestos provided a common, low price solution to builders looking to construct infrastructure around towns and cities that was also reliable. The use of Asbestos was so popular that approximately 50% of our UK homes that were built before the years mentioned above are estimated to contain some form of asbestos to this day.

Asbestos was widely used in construction as an effective insulator, and it can be added to cloth, paper, cement, plastic and other materials to make them stronger. But when asbestos dust is inhaled or ingested, the fibers can become permanently trapped in the body. Over decades, trapped asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring and eventually genetic damage.

Why Is Asbestos A Problem?

On the surface, asbestos has been a sturdy and reliable building material that was used consistently on building projects up until 1974 when it was banned from use in the UK, followed by sprayed asbestos being banned from use in 1986. There are six primary types, all of which are developed with heat-resistant fibres. Additionally, each mineral doesn’t easily corrode or conduct electricity. Up until 1999, asbestos was commonly used as an insulator, or builders added it to cement, plastic and other materials to strengthen them. Undisrupted asbestos poses no risk to health and safety. Threats only occur if the surface is broken and fibres escape into the air.

Asbestos dust becomes permanently trapped in the body, collecting in human lungs. Over time, the stuck fibres cause scarring, inflammation, and eventually severe damage. Cancer and life-threatening lung conditions are the most severe progressive diseases caused by exposure, and neither is curable. 

Are There Different Types Of Asbestos?

The word Asbestos actually refers to a commercial and legal umbrella term encompassing multiple types of minerals. The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act defines and categorises the different forms of asbestos as follows:

  • Chrysotile 

Chrysotile (white asbestos) is the most commonly used form of asbestos. It can be found today in the roofs, ceilings, walls and floors of homes and businesses. Manufacturers also used chrysotile asbestos in automobile brake linings, gaskets and boiler seals, and insulation for pipes, ducts and appliances.

Asbestos,Chrysotile,Fibers,That,Cause,Lung,Disease,,Copd,,Lung,Cancer,Chrysotile asbestos is the most commonly used variety of asbestos in the construction of buildings, accounting for approximately a staggering 90-95% of asbestos used for this process. Used frequently for its heat resistant properties and fibers that can be woven into fabric structures, this type of asbestos is used in a variety of insulation and fire-proofing products.

  • Amosite

Amosite (brown asbestos) was historically used the most for was used most frequently in the creation of cement sheets and pipe insulation. It can also be found in insulating board, ceiling tiles and thermal insulation products. Amosite Asbestos is actually one of the most toxic and dangerous types of asbestos that can be easily inhaled should it be disturbed in the demolition of a wall/ceiling that it is contained within. 

With its uses in the construction of important structures of a building, Amosite is actually the second most commonly used form of asbestos within the construction process within the timeframe it was used, only behind Chrysotile.

  • Crocidolite 

Crocidolite (blue asbestos) was commonly used to insulate engines. It was also used in some spray-on asbestos coatings, insulation, plastics and cement. It is much more durable and unyielding than Chrysotile Asbestos (the most commonly used type of Asbestos) but has a significantly lower tolerance when it comes to heat and being able to maintain its form at high heats, transforming to black glass at relatively low temperatures when compared to other kinds of asbestos.

However, Crocidolite is widely known as the most dangerous form of asbestos that can be used due to the sharp needle-like structure of the asbestos that is used. If this type of asbestos is disturbed and inhaled, it can be a life-threating prospect on a long-term basis.

  • Anthophyllite 

Anthophyllite was often used in smaller limited quantities for the creation of insulation products and construction materials. It also occurs as a contaminant in chrysotile asbestos, vermiculite and talc. It may have a grey, dull green or white color.

Similarly to other types of Asbestos we have discussed in this post, Anthophyllite possesses long, needle-like fibers that can be easily inhaled into the lungs and can cause extensive damaged if inhaled. Anthophyllite can range from brown to yellow in color and is made mainly of magnesium and iron. 

One of the more rare forms of asbestos, Anthophyllite was not an element of the construction process that was used on a regular basis in consumer products, but can be found in some cement and insulation materials on a much rarer basis than other types of Asbestos.

  • Tremolite 

Tremolite and actinolite are not used commercially, but they can be found as contaminants in chrysotile asbestos, vermiculite and talc. Tremolite asbestos usually ranges in colour from white to a dark shade of green and possesses long, sharp fibers that if inhaled, can be extremely damaging to the lungs. 

This type of asbestos was commonly used in insulation and other construction materials. Testing of talc and vermiculite has often shown trace amounts of tremolite asbestos.

What Can Asbestos Do To You?

If Asbestos is disturbed and the fibres are inhaled by an individual, there is a serious likelihood that they will cause Asbestosis to take hold of the individual. Asbestosis is a serious lung condition caused by long-term exposure to asbestos, which can be triggered through the disturbance of different types of asbestos in the demolition of older buildings in which it was used.

While asbestos is dangerous to humans, it is not harmful if it is left undisturbed. If the building material containing the asbestos is damaged at all, it releases a fine dust that contains these dangerous asbestos fibres. When this dust is inhaled, the disturbed asbestos fibres enter the lungs and will begin to gradually damage them over time, with the fibres tearing at the inner lining of your lungs.

As worrying as this sounds, Asbestosis is not developed through a quick process. For asbestosis to develop within an individual, it would take long-term exposure to disturbed asbestos fibres to develop significant symptoms. This isn’t to say short-term exposure is safe, it isn’t, but will naturally not be as damaging as long-term continuous exposure.

Asbestosis itself is not as bad as it gets, asbestosis can lead to many different diseases, such as:

  • Pleural Disease – Thickening of the lining covering the lungs due to a continued build-up of asbestos fibers.Young,Lab,Technician,Looking,Into,Mircoscope.,Young,Beautiful,Chinese,Woman
  • Mesothelioma – A type of Cancer that damages the inner lining of the Lungs, Stomach, Heart or Testicles. Blue and Brown Asbestos are usually the primary types of asbestos that cause this. Mesothelioma is a rare and usually aggressive cancer that is almost exclusively caused through the continuous exposure to disturbed asbestos.
  • Lung cancer in some situations can be caused from prolonged exposure to the inhalation of asbestos.

Are All Types Of Asbestos Dangerous?

Asbestos is not always an imminent threat to human life when it is disturbed, but all types of asbestos actually have the potential to be dangerous to humans if inhaled. Friable and non-friable asbestos have different danger levels and despite all types of Asbestos being dangerous, knowing the difference between the two forms is important. Friable Asbestos is not as durable, much more prone to damage, and is much more likely to disintegrate than non-friable Asbestos. 

In order for a particular material to be classed as friable asbestos, the material must be tolerant enough for the human touch to cause damage and include over 1% asbestos in its entirety. Suppose you see paintwork crumbling that you suspect may contain asbestos. In that case, it is likely friable and should be removed by a professional as a high priority.

Non-friable asbestos is less likely to break down, and therefore the material won’t release the same amount of fine, needle-like fibres into the air. Since human touch will not cause the damage necessary to unsettle the asbestos and send it airborne, there isn’t as much of a need to tackle this kind of asbestos immediately. You’ll only require professional support and equipment if you’re intending to unsettle the Asbestos.

How To Keep Yourself Safe From Asbestos

A great way to make yourself aware of the dangers that come with Asbestos is to take part in our classroom course for Asbestos awareness. Throughout the asbestos awareness course range provided by us here at NATAS, candidates will be made aware of the properties of asbestos, where it has been used in buildings and when it may present a risk to you. This will help candidates to protect themselves from the risk of exposure to airborne asbestos fibres and show the delegates how to comply with the health and safety rules of the asbestos legislation.

There are no specific pre-requisites for this particular course, so if you are in a profession that would suit this course, get in touch with our fantastic team to learn more. We are more than happy to answer any questions you may have. 


Asbestos is a dangerous material if it is disturbed, and can pose long-term health risks to an individual that inhales the fibers. It is vital to know how to spot Asbestos, how to work around it in order to not disturb it and in some cases, how to safely remove it. 

A solid knowledge base is important when dealing with a material that poses such a risk, and hopefully this post has provided a thorough insight into how this can all be done safely and effectively. 

For further insight and high-quality training, take a look at our state of the art Asbestos Awareness Course. Our courses are taught by experienced professionals, and are an excellent tool to creating a safer and much more knowledgeable workplace. To see all of the Asbestos related courses we have available, as well as other training we have available, take a look at our courses and educate yourself and your workforce on the topics that really matter.

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NATAS provide a full portfolio of Asbestos Training and qualification courses in the UK and Internationally, as well as bespoke training solutions to meet your organisation’s requirements. If you would like a quote for your required in-house training or would like more information call the team now on 0121 285 0795 or make an enquiry below!

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