How Do You Know If You've Found Asbestos?

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Once a popular building material, asbestos is lurking in properties up and down the country but in all likelihood, you won't know it's there. It's hard to identify, and in some cases it's actually just one component that was used to make something else. If you think you've found asbestos then no doubt, you're wondering what to do next. In this blog, we'll look at how to identify asbestos and whether it should be removed.

How do you identify asbestos?

Asbestos is not only strong, but it's also heat and chemical-resistant, and it has been used to make thousands of different products. Frequently used as a building material, asbestos takes many forms and is incredibly hard to identify by sight alone.

It's often covered up or painted over, but one telltale sign is the stray fibres that can appear when a material containing asbestos starts to deteriorate or gets damaged.

The only way to know for sure if what you've found is asbestos is to have a sample of the material tested, and this can be arranged by an asbestos removal specialist like ourselves.

Before you get to this stage, it is possible to weigh up how likely it is that you've found asbestos. You can do that by looking at two of the biggest risk factors for asbestos - the age of the property and the location of the suspect material.

How likely is it that you've found asbestos?

Asbestos has been banned in the United Kingdom since 1999, so if your property was built after this then you're unlikely to find it in your home or workplace.

However, any structure built before the year 2000 could contain asbestos - the older the property, the more likely it is that you've found asbestos. In fact, some experts think that as many as 1.5 million buildings in the UK still contain this carcinogenic material.

If you think you've found asbestos, consider where in your home or workplace the material is. There are some hotspots to look out for:

Asbestos insulating board (AIB)

AIB is used to make partition walls, ceiling tiles, bath panels, window panels and soffits. It's commonly found behind fires, fuse boxes, and boilers, as well in airing cupboards.

Cement containing asbestos

Asbestos cement was used to make lots of products, and you can still find asbestos water tanks, roof panels (particularly on garages and sheds), and cement pipes.

Other places you might find it

Asbestos went into making floor tiles, roofing felt, and decorative surfaces, like artex, but it's most known for being used to insulate lofts, wall cavities and under floorboards. You'll also find it wrapped around pipes in what's known as pipe lagging.

If your "suspect material" is in any of these places and the property was built before the year 2000, then there's a good chance that you have found asbestos.

What to do if you think you've found asbestos

Though it's alarming to think that you are living or working alongside asbestos, it only poses a risk when its fibres are released into the air. Breathing in these harzardous particles can have serious consequences for your health.

If it's in good condition, then it's better not to tamper with it. We recommend checking it for damage and deterioration every so often to ensure it stays in one piece.

Slight damage to asbestos materials can be repaired by sealing it to stop it breaking down any further, but this should only be done by an asbestos specialist.

If you're planning to do any major DIY then you should tell the contractors/tradespeople working on your property that you think you've found asbestos. They can put the right measures in place to protect themselves and everyone else nearby.

When does asbestos need to be removed?

If the asbestos is in a poor condition, then it will need to be removed by a licensed contractor. Asbestos has been linked to several incurable health conditions, caused by breathing in loose fibres, and your risk increases the longer you are exposed to it.

Asbestos which can be broken down easily because it is damaged or weak, must be removed as quickly as possible - call an asbestos removal company like ourselves and stay away from the area until is has been made safe by the contractors.

You should never attempt to remove or repair asbestos yourself. Licensed contractors have the right equipment and training to remove and dispose of asbestos safely.

What to do if you find asbestos at work  

Being involved in the refurbishment of buildings daily puts construction workers at risk of disturbing asbestos, but with the right controls in place you can manage that risk.

According to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), if you are working on a building that could contain asbestos, you should:

  • Always wear your personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Follow all the rules and safety procedures set by your employer
  • Never assume that all the asbestos has been found

If you do discover asbestos, stop work and move away from the area. You should warn your colleagues and make sure that your line manager is aware.

As many as 20 tradespeople die every week as a result of past exposure to asbestos, but with the right control measures in place, you can manage this risk.

All non-domestic buildings undergoing refurbishment and demolition should be surveyed by a licensed contractor to check for asbestos before the work begins. This is a legal requirement to protect the people who will be working on the building.

Significant refurbishment involves things like knocking down walls, installing new equipment, and electrical re-wiring.

If you're a tradesperson undertaking day-to-day maintenance on a building which could contain asbestos, then you should have access to a management survey that details the location of any asbestos-containing materials.

Taking the next steps

If you think you've found asbestos, call Asbestos Gone for advice. Don't delay - our asbestos removal experts in London and Kent are available over the phone 24/7 for your peace of mind. We are trained to remove all types of asbestos, and you can rest assured that your safety is our number one priority.