Asbestos safety information

Asbestos was widely 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 bought before 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals and so on) can contain asbestos. Asbestos materials in good condition are safe unless asbestos fibres become airborne, which happens when materials are damaged.

There are three main types of asbestos commonly called 'blue' (crocidolite), 'brown' (amosite) and 'white' (chysotile). All are dangerous, but blue and brown asbestos are known to be more hazardous than white.

Asbestos cement products

Asbestos cement is a mixture of cement and asbestos. It is a light grey and hard material which generally contains up to 10% to 15% asbestos fibre which is generally white (chysotile). It can be found in flat or corrugated sheets used as roofing and wall cladding, gutters, rain water pipes and water tanks.

The asbestos is tightly bound into the cement and the material will only give off dust if it is damaged or broken. Work with asbestos cement in good condition does not pose a risk. There is only a danger when the material becomes damaged and asbestos fibres are released to the air and into the breathing zone of people.

The dangers

Breathing in air containing asbestos dust can lead to asbestos-related diseases which include:

  • asbestosis or fibrosis (scarring) of the lungs
  • lung cancer
  • mesothelioma, a cancer of the inner lining of the chest wall or abdominal cavity