Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is used to make some building materials more rigid and fire resistant – it was commonly used from the 1950’s to the mid 1980’s. If it is undisturbed, asbestos is not a health risk; however, if fibres are released there can be serious consequences for your health. Consequently, there are regulations and guidance in place to deal with the handling and control of asbestos.
What are the dangers of asbestos?
If higher than normal concentrations of asbestos fibres and dust are inhaled over a period of time, serious lung diseases can develop, including lung cancer. However, symptoms will not usually appear until 20 or 30 years after exposure, by which time the disease may be quite advanced. Therefore, if you think that you have been exposed to asbestos, you should inform your GP. Areas in which you may be likely to find asbestos in your home include gutters, fire blankets, boilers, linings for walls, ceilings and doors and floor tiles.
What does the law say?
The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 prohibits the importation, supply and use of all forms of asbestos. If existing asbestos-containing materials are still in good condition, they may be left as they are. However, they should not be disturbed, which means that they will need to be monitored and managed.
In relation to non-domestic premises, there is a ‘duty to manage asbestos’ imposed by the regulations. They also require people who may be exposed to asbestos at work to undergo training. If work is being carried out with asbestos, or which may disturb asbestos, the regulations stipulate specific work methods and controls which should be used to prevent exposure to, and spread of, asbestos.
Asbestos removal work will usually be classed as ‘licensable’, which means that it must be undertaken by a licensed contractor. This includes work involving sprayed asbestos, lagging or insulating boards. However, there are some exceptions to this, such as work involving asbestos cement products and floor tiles. Details of the exemptions can be found at the HSE website. This kind of asbestos removal work will be non-licensable and can therefore be carried out by non-licensed people.
If you choose to remove non-licensable asbestos materials yourself, you should first consider the guidance on this produced by the Health and Safety Executive. Most importantly, you will need to wear a dust mask approved for asbestos use and a disposable overall. In addition, you must ensure that you place any small items in plastic labelled and sealed bags, and dust must be cleaned up with a damp cloth and sealed in a plastic bag. You should not use a vacuum cleaner.
If you are concerned that asbestos may be present in your building, you can either consider the detailed advice and guidance offered on the Health and Safety Executive website, or contact your local council. If you would like to get an asbestos survey of your house, you should consult the Health and Safety Executive website to select a competent surveyor.