Where to check for asbestos?

Where to check for asbestos?

One of the things that makes asbestos so dangerous is how commonly it was used as a construction material in the past. Its versatility made it popular and lead to it being widely used in buildings across the country, meaning that today, the presence of this potentially fatal material is still an issue.  

We now understand just how dangerous asbestos is and bans on the use of the material came into effect as early as the mid-80s in the UK. This is due to the fact that it can cause fatal illnesses, such as asbestos-related lung cancer, which results in thousands of deaths each year.

Where is asbestos found?

Thankfully, while asbestos was once frequently used in construction materials, the areas in which it was applied were generally consistent and predictable. This means that, although there is a lot of it around,the places where you can find it should generally not come as a surprise.

It’s important to remember that asbestos is a material where its risk to health is directly related to its likelihood of being damaged or disturbed. This is because when the material is disturbed, asbestos releases dangerous microscopic fibres into the air, which can then be inhaled. Therefore, being aware of not only where it is but where it is most likely to be disturbed is vital to remaining safe.  

With that in mind, we are going to take a look at all the different kinds of asbestos that can be found commonly inside industrial and commercial properties, so you know where to check. Keep in mind that this is meant as an overview and is not an exhaustive list. To identify the presence and risk level of asbestos in any premises, a risk assessment will be required.To find out more on the process, you can visit our FAQ page.

Where are you most likely to come across asbestos on your premises?

Asbestos cement
This is one of the most versatile types of asbestos and can thus be found in a wide variety of places. As the material was commonly mixed with cement for construction purposes, you may find asbestos in concrete on the roof, in panels, down gutters and down pipes, in the water tank and in cement flues. The type of asbestos in schools also commonly takes this form.  
Asbestos is often mixed with another material and, as such, has a plain, grey and hard appearance, which looks like ordinary cement. Asbestos in plaster is a good example of this.  

Work with this type of asbestos only requires a license in exceptional circumstances, in which it has been badly damaged, although deterioration of the material can mean it requires a notification to the local authority. This is because it is generally less friable than other types of asbestos.

Sprayed coatings
Speaking of friable materials, there are few better examples than sprayed coatings. These can be found on everything from roofing sheets,the underside of roofs, the sides of buildings, as a filler coating, fire protection on steel and reinforced concrete beams, and on the underside of floors.  

Appearance-wise, it’s little more than a white/grey painted or sprayed colour. This material is 85% asbestos and breaks up incredibly easy. It is at the opposite end of the scale to the much harder to break up asbestos cement. Any kind of disturbance can lead to large quantities of asbestos being released into the air and inhaled. Therefore, this type of material can only ever be removed by a licensed contractor.

Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB)
AIB was a common fireproofing material used in fire doors,partition walls, ceiling tiles and soffits. It is also commonly found below windows. It essentially looks like normal building items, such as ceiling tiles or plasterboard's, and the difficulty in recognising the difference between this and non-asbestos materials is part of the danger.  

Small or minor tasks on AIB will not require a license. However,if it is part of a demolition, the work is notifiable. Additionally, work which lasts longer than an hour a day for one person over a seven-day period or more than two hours by all workers does require a license.

This type of asbestos is generally found either on or in heating systems, such as boilers, pipework or calorifiers.  

There are two reasons that this type of asbestos is so dangerous. Firstly, it’s very fibrous, flaking off easily and posing a serious risk of inhalation. Secondly, it is often covered in a protective coat of paint,which masks its appearance. As it is one of the most dangerous kinds of asbestos, work with this material always requires a license.

Rope seals and gaskets
Asbestos rope seals and gaskets are found in gas and electrical heating appliances, for example, as the rope seal on a boiler.  

Non-licensed individuals can work with this type of asbestos, as it can be removed without substantial breakage, as long as the material remains in good condition. If it is not in good condition, then a notification would be required.

Loose fill insulation
This is likely the most dangerous of all the asbestos-containing materials. Loose fill insulation is a fluffy insulation material which i general blue-grey or whiteish in colour. It is found between walls, in lofts and under floorboards to give a few examples.  

This is made of pure asbestos, hence the increased risk levels. When disturbed, a large volume of dangerous fibres can be released. As you can probably imagine, work with this type of asbestos should only ever be carried out by a licensed contractor.

Floor tiles, textiles and composites
It may seem strange to think that asbestos floor tiles were once such a popular choice, but sadly, this is the case. One of the things that make these tricky to spot is that they are often hidden beneath carpets. Alongside this, old fire blankets, as well as heat resistant gloves may be made out of asbestos textiles, which can also be found in old fuse boxes, behind the fuse. In addition, there’s asbestos paper, which may be used as a lining beneath tiles and inside metal cladding.  

Unfortunately, these asbestos items look similar to the materials that are now used, making them hard to identify. Often the best way to find out if these are likely to contain asbestos is by checking how long these materials have been present. Simply asking the relevant authority or looking for a trade name is usually the best way of accomplishing this.  

Work on these materials can be undertaken by non-licensed workers, unless there is serious deterioration, in which case a notification is required.

Textured coatings
A common place to find asbestos in walls and ceilings is in textured coatings. Originally white in colour, the appearance will depend on the finish required. Further complicating matters though is the fact they have often been painted over. A common trade name for this type of decorative finish is ‘artex’, so when people refer to asbestos in artex, this is what they mean. 

Generally, no notification is needed for work on this type of material, with the exception of large scale removal, as methods such as steaming can cause significant break up.

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* Please Note: Decontaminate do not undertake work on private homes (excluding large stately homes). For more information on the type of property we work on please see our case studies.
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