Advice On Dealing With Asbestos In The Home


The Law Of… Dealing With Asbestos

Asbestos was an extremely popular building material for the majority of the last century. Because of this, there are very few buildings built before the year 2000 that do not contain some asbestos, including residential buildings.

Gavin Evans, Asbestos Disease Claims Accredited solicitor, explains where asbestos might be found in your home and whether or not it is appropriate to remove.

Where Is Asbestos In My Home?

Asbestos can be found in many areas of residential properties, but it is important to remember that asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed or damaged. It was used frequently as a building material for its strength and durability as well as possessing fire resistant properties, all before its true dangers were correctly analysed, debated and aired.

Asbestos Insulating Boarding

Asbestos Insulating Boarding (AIB) was one of the more popular uses for asbestos and can be found in many areas of houses.

You may find AIB:

  • In ceiling tiles
  • In bath panels
  • As insulation for airing cupboards
  • Within partition walls
  • Used for interior and exterior window panels
  • Around boilers
  • Behind fireplaces
  • Behind fuse boxes

Asbestos can also be found as building material for other parts of the house including:

  • Asbestos cement water tanks
  • Pipe lagging (or insulation)
  • Loose fill insulation (usually found in lofts or floors)
  • Textured decorative coating (usually found on ceilings)
  • Toilet seats and cisterns
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Gutters and asbestos cement downpipes
  • Asbestos cement roofing
  • Asbestos cement panels
  • Roofing felt
  • Asbestos arch shields inside old fuse boxes, usually found in small and confined under stairs cupboards
  • Asbestos fire bricks in old night time storage heaters

The appearance of asbestos is different in different locations. The Health and Safety Executive provide a guide on what various types of asbestos looks like, but if you are at all unsure, your local environmental health officer will be able to detect asbestos for you

What Should I Do If I Find Asbestos In My Home?

It is incredibly important not to attempt to repair or remove asbestos yourself if you have not had specialist training. If asbestos fibres are breathed in they can cause mesothelioma (a fatal form of cancer) and other asbestos related diseases. Asbestos fibres are often invisible to the naked eye and so disturbing the material could result in unknown exposure.

If you suspect that you have asbestos in your home you should seek advice from an environmental health officer at your local authority/council. It is likely that they will advise you to leave the asbestos alone if it is in good condition and unlikely to get damaged. You should check on the asbestos in your home from time to time, to monitor its condition.

If the asbestos in your home is slightly damaged, it is possible for it to be repaired by sealing it. However, this needs to be done by someone who is trained in dealing with asbestos in this way.

If the asbestos is badly damaged or likely to be damaged further in the near future, it will need to be removed. Your local environmental health officer can advise you on who might be best to do this. It is likely you will need to hire a contractor licensed by the national independent watchdog for work-related health and safety, Health and Safety Executive.

What Should I Do If I Plan On Doing Some DIY On My House?

If you are planning on bringing in builders and contractors, it is incredibly important to inform them of any asbestos present in your house. This will reduce the safety risk to them as they are working as well as the risk to you if they were to unknowingly disturb any asbestos in your home.

Legally, you are not responsible for the risks involved for contractors who are working on your home, as you have no control over the way in which the work is carried out. However, it is helpful to builders if you inform them of the potential areas of risk.

What Should I Do If I Find Asbestos In The Workplace?

Asbestos can also be found in many workplaces as well as homes and the same principles should be followed here. If you are not trained in the removal of asbestos, do not attempt to repair or remove what you find. Instead, report your findings to the person that deals with estates or the duty holder who is responsible for the protection of colleagues against the dangers of asbestos.

Any buildings built or renovated before the year 2000 is likely to contain asbestos, including school and hospital buildings.  By 2002 legislation had been passed to ensure that all public buildings had an asbestos survey report and technically anyone can walk into a pub or school to ask to view their asbestos survey.  This has helped many workmen who were previously at enormous risk from starting building/maintenance works without having a clue whether or not they would inadvertently disturb asbestos. 

Historically, a range of career choices put individuals more at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres.  However, with more asbestos left in our old buildings, sometimes deteriorating over many decades, more people who worked in “clean” environments such as shop workers, medics, accountants and office workers are being put at risk, as are students and school teachers from classroom exposures.

Workers who were historically more at risk were:

  • Heating and ventilation engineers
  • Demolition workers
  • Shipyard / railway workers
  • Power station workers
  • Steel workers
  • Carpenters and joiners
  • Plumbers
  • Roofing contractors
  • Painters and decorators
  • Plasterers
  • Fire and burglar alarm fitters
  • Shop fitters
  • Gas fitters
  • Maintenance staff
  • Electricians

It is important to remember that you cannot always see the microscopic asbestos fibres in the air and the effects of being exposed to asbestos can take years to present themselves.

What Should I Do If I Am Exposed To Asbestos?

No matter what the circumstance, if you have been exposed to asbestos fibres at work or at home, some people seek medical advice, however, practically there is very little a doctor can do for you as asbestos diseases are “long tail” and this means that asbestos can lay dormant for many decades before causing a problem.  Luckily for many people, they do not go on to develop these long tail asbestos diseases and so it is important not to worry excessively.  It is, however, sensible to have your exposure formally documented should you do go on to suffer in the future. If you were exposed to asbestos whilst at work, seeing a doctor or occupational nurse provides an initial evidence base for any condition that could develop in the future.

If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other asbestos related disease that can be traced back to working conditions, a specialist solicitor can provide you with advice, including securing the financial security of you and your family.

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