The facts about… asbestos

Red warning sign with the words 'Danger Keep Out Asbestos Contamination'

Most people know that asbestos is a dangerous material. But as it was banned in the UK in 1999, they also think it’s no longer something to be concerned about.

Red sign with the warning 'Danger Keep Out Asbestos Contamination'Sadly, however, as use of asbestos was so widespread in the mid 20th century, it has left us a deadly legacy. An alarming recent prediction states that in 2015 more people will die of asbestos disease that will be killed on the UK’s roads.

So while there’s no need to panic, it’s a good idea to arm yourself with the facts so you can protect yourself.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos was used to prevent fire from spreading – and our schools and public buildings were filled with it.

It was also widely used in domestic properties – around fuse boxes, in artex and ceiling tiles and in guttering.

Essentially, any house that was built before the 1990s is likely to contain asbestos.

As long as it’s not disturbed, household asbestos will not be dangerous.  But airborne loose fibres are deadly – and inhaling even a small amount could be fatal.

HSE: Asbestos

HSE: Asbestos

It can lead to the asbestos cancer, Mesothelioma.  This is not a widely known condition, but it is a very aggressive disease with no known cure.

Exposure to asbestos particles can happen in your own home – during home improvements or while carrying out DIY projects.

You don’t always need to remove asbestos-containing materials. If they are in good condition and in a position where they are not going to be disturbed or damaged then it may be safer to leave them where they are, making sure you manage any potential risks.

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Who is most at risk?

  • Domestic plumbers and electricians exposed to asbestos through their work.
  • Anyone carrying out home improvements/DIY projects.
  • Collectors of vintage household items – ironing boards and World War Two gas masks are particularly likely to contain asbestos.
  • Teachers – through pinning work onto walls impregnated with asbestos.

How to stay safe:

  • If you’re doing any DIY projects, make sure you don’t sand, drill, cut or break materials containing asbestos.
  • Always seek professional advice if you suspect asbestos is present.  You can find a list of licensed contractors by contacting the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
  • If you live in social housing, contact your council, housing association or landlord – they all have a duty to manage asbestos in their properties. Private property owners should seek a survey from a professional contractor.
  • The National Union of Teachers have published a key facts document about asbestos in schools.  Their advice is that teachers should always ask where asbestos has been located in their school.  They can then avoid pinning work to this site, and also monitor it for deterioration and report any cracks or holes.
  • Check with your local council to see if they have an asbestos disposal facility for portable items at their waste disposal sites. If so, they’ll need to be carefully wrapped, and you should speak to an operative at the site first.

Asbestos is clearly still a threat. But by following a few simple safety measures, it no longer needs to be a danger.

Asbestos fibres

Find out more…

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About Sarah Walters

My day job is writing grant applications for charities. In my spare time I write blogs, short stories and novellas set in the mid 20th century. I also sew and sell vintage haberdashery and hand sewn items in my Etsy shop, SewsAttic.