Understanding asbestos, its management, and taking appropriate precautions can help alleviate worries. Asbestos can be a concerning issue and can cause anxiety for many homeowners and occupants due to its potential health risks, but not everyone needs to be worried about it.
In the UK, more than 5,000 people die annually as a result of asbestos-related diseases. However, you can stay safe by taking the necessary precautions. This guide aims to explain what asbestos is and how you can protect yourself and your home.
What Is Asbestos, and Why Is It Dangerous?
Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals, including chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. It used to be used in construction materials due to its high tensile strength, thermal insulation and resistance to fire, chemicals, and electricity. However, it is no longer considered safe to use.
Asbestos is dangerous because it releases tiny, airborne fibres when disturbed. These fibres are invisible to the naked eye and can remain suspended in the air for extended periods. When inhaled, they can penetrate deep into the lungs and lodge in the lung tissue, leading to potential health issues. The most serious health risks associated with asbestos exposure include:
Prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibres increases the risk of lung cancer, especially in individuals who smoke. In the UK, asbestos-related lung cancer even accounts for 20% of all workplace lung cancer deaths.
Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.
Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition characterised by scarring and inflammation of the lung tissues, which can lead to breathing difficulties and reduced lung function.
How Can I Determine if My Property Contains Asbestos?
Asbestos is not always easily identifiable, and its presence may go unnoticed. If your property was built before the year 2000, it is more likely to contain asbestos, as it was widely used in construction until its ban in the UK in 1999.
To determine if your property contains asbestos, you should hire a licensed asbestos surveyor to conduct an asbestos survey. There are two main types of surveys: management surveys and refurbishment and demolition surveys.
Management surveys are a standard survey for non-domestic properties to identify the presence and condition of asbestos containing material. The surveyor will inspect accessible areas and materials likely to be disturbed during routine activities.
Refurbishment and demolition surveys are what you need to get before you do any major refurbishment or demolition work. This is more thorough and even spots concealed asbestos.
Is It Safe to Live in a Property With Asbestos-Containing Materials?
Living in a property with undisturbed asbestos containing materials is generally safe. Asbestos only becomes hazardous when its fibres are released into the air and inhaled. If the asbestos containing materials are in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed, the risk of exposure is low.
To ensure safety, it is essential to regularly monitor the condition of asbestos containing materials and avoid any activities that could damage or disturb them. Be cautious during DIY projects and avoid drilling, cutting, or sanding materials suspected to contain asbestos.
How Can I Manage Asbestos in My Property?
Managing asbestos involves identifying and assessing the risk posed by asbestos and implementing control measures to minimise exposure. Conduct an asbestos survey to identify the location, type, and condition of asbestos containing materials in your property.
The surveyor will assess the risk posed by the identified asbestos containing materials and take out necessary actions based on the material’s condition and accessibility. You can work together to develop a management plan outlining how you will deal with the identified asbestos containing materials, including regular inspections, monitoring, and any necessary remedial actions.
Take steps to prevent accidental damage to asbestos containing materials, such as labelling asbestos-containing materials and providing clear instructions to occupants and contractors. Ensure that all relevant parties, including occupants and maintenance personnel, are educated about asbestos risks and the safe handling of asbestos containing materials.
Can I Remove Asbestos Myself?
No. It is not advisable for homeowners or occupants to attempt asbestos removal without the necessary training and equipment. Disturbing asbestos containing materials without proper precautions can lead to the release of asbestos fibres, putting you and others at risk of exposure.
Asbestos removal is a specialised task that should only be performed by licensed asbestos removal contractors. These professionals have the expertise, protective gear, and containment procedures required to safely remove and dispose of asbestos-containing materials safely.
How Can I Protect Myself and My Family From Asbestos Exposure?
Learn about the potential sources of asbestos in your property and educate your family about the risks and safety measures. This includes avoiding disturbing or damaging materials suspected to contain asbestos. If you notice any damaged asbestos containing materials, contact a licensed professional immediately.
Ensure good ventilation in your property, as it can help reduce the concentration of airborne asbestos fibres. When hiring contractors for renovation or maintenance work, inform them about potential asbestos and ensure they follow proper procedures to avoid disturbance.
If you need to be in contact with materials suspected to contain asbestos, wear appropriate PPE, such as disposable coveralls, gloves, and an appropriate mask. The professionals you have contacted will be able to guide you on this.
Can I Sell a Property With Asbestos Containing Materials?
Yes, you can sell a property containing asbestos, but you have a legal obligation to inform potential buyers about the presence of asbestos. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 requires homeowners or landlords to inform anyone who may be at risk of exposure to asbestos about the location and condition of asbestos containing materials.
You may need to provide an asbestos management plan to the buyer, outlining how the asbestos will be managed to prevent exposure. This can be drawn up after the survey, with professional help. For more information on buying and selling a home, see our mortgage directories.
What Should I Do if I Believe I’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos?
Consult a doctor immediately, especially if you experience any respiratory issues, persistent coughing or chest pain. Inform your doctor about the specific details of your potential asbestos exposure, as this will help them understand the possible cause of your symptoms. If your doctor suspects asbestos exposure, they may recommend further tests and monitoring to assess your health and identify any asbestos-related conditions at an early stage.
While asbestos can be a concerning issue for homeowners and occupants, understanding its properties, dangers and proper management can help fix worries and ensure a safe living environment. Asbestos poses significant health risks when its fibres are released into the air and inhaled, leading to serious illnesses such as lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Therefore, it is crucial to take appropriate precautions to prevent exposure to asbestos.