Asbestos is a building material that was mainly used for fire protection and insulation between 1950s and mid 1980s. If you have a property that was built before 2000, it may contain some asbestos.
Although mainly used for insulation, the fibrous material is often combined with other building materials so it can appear in many different forms such as a type of concrete, floor tiles, rope, drainpipes, texture ceiling etc. Unless it has been coloured it is usually, blue (the most dangerous), brown or white. So it can be found in many different places and has a variety of uses. This can make it hard to spot.
The Health and Safety Executive http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos has a lot of useful information about asbestos on their website including pictures of what asbestos looks like where it is found and what to do about it.
Is Asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos is fibrous and it is these fibres that can cause illness if they are inhaled in large quantities. It can affect older and younger people and is particularly bad if there is regular exposure over a long period of time. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Asbestos is the cause of some 4500 deaths every year. There are four illnesses that are associated with it; Mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the lungs), Asbestos-related lung cancer, Asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs), Diffuse pleural thickening (a thickening of the membrane surrounding the lungs). It can take between 15-20 years for the symptoms of asbestos to appear. It is vitally important to protect yourself and others from exposure to asbestos.
Only the asbestos fibres when breathed in can be detrimental to our health. So only damaged asbestos or asbestos that is in danger of being damaged is a risk. Asbestos that is in good condition and is left undisturbed is generally not a health risk.
Where will I find asbestos?
This is a link to the page on the Health and Safety Executive website containing a list of places where asbestos can be found.
What shall I do if I suspect asbestos is present?
You need to get an accredited surveyor to survey the building and take samples of suspected asbestos containing materials (ACM). A management survey may be required to ensure the ACM is looked after according to HES regulations http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/campaign/duty/surveys.htm#types
This could be done by the building manager if the premises are straight forward and simple, otherwise a surveyor is needed.
If the building is going to be upgraded, refurbished or demolished you will need a Refurbishment / demolition Survey. This is usually done by a surveyor.
In April 2012 Asbestos legislation was updated http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/regulations.htm outlines the regulations. These are just a few guidelines from the legislation but you should consult the Government website for the complete set of regulations; if you have asbestos containing materials in a building and they are in good condition, they do not have to be removed but they must be monitored, if the asbestos is in a non-domestic building there needs to be a suitable management plan in place, work planned on a building containing asbestos needs a full assessment of the risks.
Most asbestos work must be carried out by a licensed contractor. You can find a description of asbestos work that needs to be carried out by a licensed contractor here; http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/licensing/licensed-contractor.htm
A list of what is permissible as non-licensed work can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/licensing/non-licensed-work.htm
Licensed contractors must hold a licence issued by the Asbestos Licensing Unit of the Health and Safety Executive. We recommend you ask to see this licence before you appoint a contractor to carry out asbestos work.
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