Asbestos floor tiles – how dangerous are they? 

asbestos gone van

Asbestos was once popular in the building trade, but after years of research into its medical effects, it was finally banned in 1999. It is estimated that more than twenty tradespeople still die every week from asbestos-related diseases, which has left many wondering how they can avoid exposure to this toxic mineral. In this blog, we focus on asbestos floor tiles – how to identify them and who can remove them.

What are vinyl asbestos floor tiles?

Asbestos was used to make vinyl floor tiles in the 1900s, and today, you can still find these tiles hiding in plain sight in commercial buildings and homes across the UK.

We know now that this fibrous mineral is toxic, but before it was banned, it was used to make lots of building materials. Asbestos is heat-resistant and strong, so it's no surprise that manufactures thought it would make a hard-wearing floor tile.

You'll find it in high-traffic areas such as hallways and stairwells in multi-occupancy buildings, as well as factories, hospitals, schools, and shopping centres.

It's also possible that there are asbestos floor tiles under your carpet at home.

Asbestos floor tiles usually contain between 2% and 5% Chrysotile (white asbestos). This is the most common type of asbestos, and it is often found in older buildings, particularly in things like roof tiles, ceiling insulation, wall coverings, and flooring.

How do you identify asbestos floor tiles?

Asbestos floor tiles look almost identical to other types of "safe" vinyl floor tile. It's not possible to identify by sight alone - the only way of confirming asbestos is by having a sample of the floor tile tested in a UK accredited laboratory by a removal’s expert.

Never try to remove a piece of the floor tile yourself; you risk releasing asbestos fibres into the air that can cause serious and fatal diseases when they are inhaled.

There are some signs that a tile may contain asbestos, and you should look out for these when you are working on a property – whether it’s your own or someone else's.

The age of the property

If the property was built between 1920 and 1980, the floor tiles could contain asbestos. It is also possible to find asbestos floor tiles in properties built in the 80s and 90s before it was banned completely, but this is much less likely.

Tile shape and colour

Asbestos floor tiles are usually square (9x9, 12x12, or 18x18 inches) and they were often manufactured in light colours, such as pink, green, cream, or blue.

That's not to say that asbestos containing tiles don't come in any other shape or colour, but this is a useful description of what to look out for when you're working on an older property.

Black tile adhesive

One tell-tale sign that a floor tile contains asbestos is the adhesive under it. These tiles were often bonded to the floor using cut-back adhesive or a thick, black mastic. If you can see black adhesive sticking out from underneath a damaged tile, it could be a sign of asbestos.

And lastly, if there is a trade name on your tiles, look it up online. It could serve as a useful clue to finding out more about what it contains.

Are asbestos floor tiles dangerous?

If they are in good condition, then asbestos floor tiles are not considered dangerous. The asbestos is tightly wrapped inside the tile, and left like this it poses no threat to the people living and working nearby.

However, if the tile is damaged or starts to degrade, it becomes known as a friable material (those that crumble easily), which significantly changes its risk factor.

In short, this means the asbestos inside the tile is more likely to come loose, and once in the air, its fibres can be inhaled. Over time, exposure to asbestos can cause life-altering diseases, such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

When to remove asbestos floor tiles

It is often safer to leave your asbestos floor tiles in place, if they are in good condition. However, if you decide to renovate in the future then you will need to consider removing them before you start work.

Scraping, sanding, or using power tools on the floor can all disturb the tiles. This can lead to them crumbling and releasing loose asbestos fibres.

Some people choose to encapsulate their tiles or cover them up with a carpet, but this is only a short-term solution. The problem will simply be passed down to the next owners, who may want to renovate or even demolish the property.

Those most at risk of exposure to asbestos are contractors, such as:

  • carpenters
  • joiners
  • plumbers
  • heating engineers
  • electricians
  • carpet fitters
  • tilers

Without knowing it, they may disturb asbestos floor tiles while carrying out their job. If you're a homeowner and you know that your property contains asbestos then you have a duty to tell any contractors that you use.

Likewise, the duty holder for commercial properties should share their asbestos risk register with the people working on their premises.

Who can remove asbestos tiles?

Removing asbestos tiles isn't a job that can be done by anyone – it requires training, the right equipment, and in some cases, a licence. When it comes to asbestos, it's simply not worth taking the risk; you should always leave this job to the professionals.

Based in the South-East of England, we have over 10 years' experience in asbestos removals and our trained team of licensed operatives are here to help you.

Since Abestos Gone was established, we have helped hundreds of homeowners, commercial property owners, and duty holders. We understand that finding asbestos is worrying, which is why we're available 24/7 for FREE advice.

If you think you've discovered asbestos in your home or workplace, call our London or Kent-based teams who can guide you through what to do next. Remember, never attempt to remove asbestos floor tiles yourself, even if it is only to take a sample