As an Asbestos Awareness training provider and asbestos consultant, we often get questions about asbestos. Given how dangerous it can be, people often want to know how to identify asbestos and what they should do with it, from asbestos in Artex ceilings to boiler and loft insulation.
Below we’ve compiled some of the most commonly asked questions we receive about asbestos, its properties, common places to find it, and how to remove it safely. If there’s anything you want to know that isn’t listed below, check our blog or consider taking our Asbestos Awareness course.
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- Can I remove asbestos myself?
- What are the asbestos removal regulations in the UK?
- How do I get an asbestos licence?
- Where should I dispose of asbestos?
- What are the safe asbestos exposure limits?
- What does asbestos look like? How can I recognise asbestos?
Can I remove asbestos myself?
Removing asbestos yourself without the proper training and equipment is extremely inadvisable, and its legality depends on the nature and scale of the work in question.
Any work with asbestos is likely to mandate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and H-type vacuums. Even screwing or attaching fixtures to an Artex ceiling containing asbestos is best performed by a trained professional.
Most minor maintenance work can be undertaken legally without a licence. However, work on many kinds of asbestos is designated as notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW), and must meet stringent requirements. These include:
- Notifying the Health & Safety Executive (HSE)
- Designating the location of the asbestos
- Carrying out medical examinations
- Keeping health records
What are the asbestos removal regulations in the UK?
Asbestos has been banned for use in all UK construction projects since 2000. As a result, asbestos removal regulations are stringent, with limits dependent on the scale of the project, the type of asbestos, and the stability of the asbestos in question, both before and after removal.
Asbestos repair and removal projects fall into three categories:
Licensable work must be carried out by a licensed surveyor, and generally involves unstable asbestos, or asbestos which is sanded or broken up. This includes:
- Pipe lagging
- Loose fill insulation
- Spray coatings (limpet asbestos)
Notifiable non-licensable work (NNLW) can be carried out without a licence, but will involve notifying local authorities and a requisite health check. This includes:
- Insulating boards
- Large scale textured coatings
- Roof coatings
Non-licensable work can be carried out without notification or a licence, but all available precautions should be taken. This includes:
- Small scale textured coatings (e.g. drilling)
- Sealing or decorating good condition asbestos
- Intact removal of cement and ceiling products
- Moving and minor repair of asbestos insulating boards (AIB)
How do I get an asbestos licence?
An asbestos licence can only be acquired by individuals intending to perform licensable work. The application process involves three steps:
- Complete and return the HSE’s ASB1 application form
- Undergo assessment
- Receive feedback from HSE
- If successful, receive licence
- If unsuccessful, implement advice & reapply
Dangerous goods and asbestos awareness training differ from an asbestos licence, and are required for individuals transporting and/or working with asbestos in any capacity.
Individuals undertaking non-licensable work or wishing to better understand the effects of asbestos are also recommended to take our asbestos awareness course.
Where should I dispose of asbestos?
Materials with more than 0.1% asbestos content are considered either hazardous or special waste around the UK, and are subject to stringent regulations.
The relevant materials must be double-bagged, with a UN-approved red inner bag and clear outer bag. Relevant asbestos warnings should be clearly displayed on the outer bag.
Individuals can dispose of the asbestos at many local household waste recycling plants, although your local council should have a complete list. Businesses are generally expected to process their asbestos with the help of a licensed asbestos stripping company.
Fibrous (i.e. loose or unbonded) asbestos is also regulated by the Carriage of Dangerous Goods (CDG) Act. All drivers and crew involved in the transport and handling of asbestos must have received dangerous good awareness training, and all bags must be additionally labelled as CDG compliant.
‘Firmly bound’ asbestos which is not likely to release fibres is exempt from CDG, and is not considered dangerous for transport.Transported asbestos must be stored in a sealed compartment, such as a lockable skip or van load compartment.
Quantities above 333kg or 1000kg (depending on the variety of asbestos) require additional driver training and vehicle markings, among other restrictions.
What are the safe asbestos exposure limits?
There is no safe asbestos exposure limit. When you inhale asbestos, the microscopic fibres become embedded deep in your lungs, causing irritation and permanent scarring to your cells.
The more you are exposed to asbestos, the more damage it will do. This cell damage can eventually cause the mutations that lead to certain cancers, particularly mesothelioma. Heavy exposure can also lead to the condition asbestosis, which results from severe lung damage.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that most asbestos-related diseases occur as a result of prolonged exposure as a child, or over an extended period of years. Asbestos related diseases often do not manifest themselves for thirty years or more after initial exposure, with many victims originating from careers which involved direct and frequent contact with asbestos.
What does asbestos look like? How can I recognise asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral. There are six varieties of asbestos which earn their names from their distinctive colours. The most common are often referred to as blue asbestos, white asbestos and brown asbestos. The other three types were uncommon for commercial use.
These varieties of asbestos were used in the manufacture of around 3000 products until the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when the dangers became more widely known. Because of its fire resistant properties, asbestos continued to be used as a building material until the 1990s.
It was only completely banned in the UK in 2000, and continues to be used in some constructions in the US, although no new uses for asbestos are allowed. While raw asbestos is easy to identify by its stringy, fibrous texture, the wide variety of uses for asbestos mean it is difficult to identify by sight alone.
The best way to identify asbestos is to consider the age of a product or construction, and check the use of asbestos in that object or construction type during the period. If in doubt, have a certified surveyor check it. Air quality tests and laboratory analysis can easily determine the quantity of asbestos, and risk of exposure.
Some formerly common uses of asbestos include:
- Artex wall and ceiling textures
- Wall and ceiling insulation
- External sheds and garages
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Fire doors and blankets
- Building cladding
- Roof tarring and tiling
- Industrial talc