Asbestos was extensively used as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. It was used for a variety of purposes and was ideal for fireproofing and insulation. Any building built before 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals etc) can contain asbestos. Asbestos materials in good condition are safe unless asbestos fibres become airborne, which happens when materials are damaged.
The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations (CAWR) require employers or the self employed to prevent exposure at work to asbestos or, where this is not reasonably practicable and, in any event, to below the control limit for asbestos.
If you own, occupy, manage or have responsibilities for premises which may contain asbestos you will either have:
- A legal duty to manage the risk from this material
- A duty to cooperate with whoever manages that risk
Breathing in air containing asbestos fibres can lead to asbestos related diseases, mainly cancers of the lungs and chest lining. 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.
Asbestos must be properly managed (Managing Asbestos) to prevent people from dying from asbestos diseases in the future. Workers who carry out building maintenance and repair are particularly at risk. Each year a 1000 people who worked in such trades die from past exposures to asbestos fibres. Half a million commercial buildings still contain asbestos. Workers are still at risk.