Asbestos-related diseases cause the deaths of around 5000 workers each year – more than the number of people killed on the road. 20 tradesmen die each week as a result of past asbestos exposure.
Homes built after the mid-1980s are unlikely to contain asbestos, but homes that are more than 20 years old are likely to contain some materials made from asbestos. That might sound alarming, but as long as the asbestos is in good condition - not flaking, damaged or broken - and is located somewhere out of reach where it can’t be easily damaged, then it shouldn’t be a risk. However, asbestos-containing materials can become dangerous if they are damaged or broken, releasing fibres and dust into the air. Airborne asbestos fibres don’t smell and they can’t be seen but, when inhaled, the spiky asbestos fibres can lodge in the tissue of the lungs, causing irritation and potential sites for cancerous growths. The effects of asbestos-exposure take many years, usually decades, to develop into diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Twenty years on from the asbestos ban in 1999, the total impact of exposure to asbestos in previous decades is still being determined. The number of diagnoses relating to occupational (work-related) asbestos exposure is expected to peak before the cases finally being to reduce in number, but the predicted timing of the peak keeps shifting as the steady stream of asbestos-related diagnoses continues, coupled with what appears to be a new wave of diagnoses, perhaps relating to DIY and exposure in the home. We expect it to be several years before the full impact of asbestos-related harm is known.
Common asbestos-containing materials include:
This was widely used as a cladding material and can still be found in domestic garages and sheds and around the home. It is also found in guttering, downpipes, corrugated sheets, wall panels, bath panels, flue pipes, cold water tanks, roofing tiles and soffit boards.
AIB was used for fire protection panelling to cupboards and doors, ceiling tiles, partition walls and soffit boards.
This was mostly used to insulate pipes and boilers. It is rarely found in residential properties, especially those built after the mid-1970s.
This was used to protect structural steel from fire, so it is rarely found in homes but can sometimes be present in communal areas of flats.
- Other materials include some decorative coatings (such as Artex, textured paints and plasters), plastic floor tiles, paper backed floor lino, toilet cisterns, some bitumen products, electrical linings and within some heating systems. These are generally considered lower risk products and are much less likely to release fibres.
What should I do if I think there is asbestos in my home?
If you think you have asbestos in your home you must leave any suspect materials alone. In particular, do not saw, drill or disturb these materials. Generally, as long as such materials are in good condition they are not harmful but if you are unsure whether a material contains asbestos or whether it can be left in place safely, then seek advice from a specialist contractor or your local council. You can also find further information about asbestos from the HSE website
What should I do if I think I have an asbestos-related condition?
If you have been exposed to asbestos at work or at home, then you should speak to your GP for advice.