What is Asbestos?

Home What is Asbestos?

Once marketed as a “magic mineral,” asbestos is now an infamous public health menace. Learn about what asbestos is, why it is harmful and how it was used in numerous construction materials and consumer products. Asbestos can be found in any building built before the year 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals etc) and causes around 5000 deaths every year.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral substance that can be pulled into a fluffy consistency. Asbestos fibres are soft and flexible yet resistant to heat, electricity and chemical corrosion. Pure asbestos is an effective insulator, and it can also be mixed into cloth, paper, cement, plastic and other materials to make them stronger.

These qualities once made asbestos very profitable for business, but unfortunately, they also make asbestos highly toxic.

Asbestos is not a single type of mineral — rather, it refers to a group of silicate minerals that share the same fibrous nature. In business terms, it was common to speak of common “white asbestos” (chrysotile) and the less often used “blue asbestos” (crocidolite) and “brown asbestos” (amosite). Asbestos is most likely mixed with another material, it’s very difficult to know whether you are working with it or not. However, if you work in a building built before the year 2000, it’s likely that some parts of the building will contain asbestos.

Who Is at Risk of Exposure to Asbestos?

Sadly due to the large quantities that were used in buildings and building materials, around 5000 people die each year from asbestos related diseases. This is predicted to rise up to 10,000 people making asbestos the single biggest workplace killer in the world.

Workers involved in refurbishment, maintenance and other similar trades, could be at risk of exposure to asbestos during their work. This includes: Heating and ventilation engineers, Demolition workers,Carpenters and joiners, Plumbers, Roofing contractors, Painters and decorators, Plasterers, Construction workers, Fire and burglar alarm installers, Shop fitters, Gas fitters, Computer and data installers, General maintenance staff eg caretakers, Telecommunications engineers, Architects, building surveyors, and other such professionals, Cable layers and Electricians.


Asbestos Facts:

  • Asbestos refers to a group of fibrous, heat-resistant minerals
  • Once a common ingredient in construction materials
  • Asbestos kills around 5000 people each year, more than the number killed on the road.
  • Microscopic fibers can become trapped in the body, causing disease over time
  • Industry executives covered up health dangers for decades
  • Asbestos is not just a problem of the past. It can be present today in any building built or refurbished before the year 2000.


If you are responsible for the maintenance or repair of non-domestic premises and /or a building owner, then you have a duty by law to manage any asbestos in that building.

The duty to manage covers all non-domestic premises including industrial and commercial buildings such as factories, warehouses, offices and shops. The duty also covers public buildings such as hospitals, schools, museums, libraries, leisure centres, churches and other religious buildings.

Although the duty does not apply to domestic premises such as private houses, it does apply to the ‘common parts’ of multi-occupancy domestic premises, such as purpose-built flats or houses that are converted into flats.

What you need to do as the dutyholder

  • Find out if asbestos is present
  • Make a record of the location, type and condition of the asbestos
  • Assess the risk of anyone being exposed to the asbestos
  • Prepare a plan on how to manage these risks
  • Put the plan into action, monitor it and keep it up to date
  • Provide this information to anyone who might work on or disturb the asbestos


Asbestos fibres are strong, durable, and resist heat, acids, and friction. Asbestos is virtually indestructible. Because of its useful physical properties, asbestos fibres were often combined with other materials for use in hundreds of industrial, maritime, automotive, scientific and building products. The following list shows the wide range of materials that could contain asbestos:

Materials containing Asbestos include:

  • Insulation
  • Fireproofing (Plaster / Textured Paint)
  • Textile and Cloth Products (Blankets)
  • Spackling, Patching & Taping Compounds
  • High temperature Gaskets and Packings
  • Asbestos-cement Pipe and Sheet Material
  • Tiles, Wallboard, Siding and Roofing
  • Friction Materials (automotive brakes)
  • People emergency escape systems
  • Laboratory hoods and table tops


Asbestos can be found in any industrial building built or refurbished before the year 2000. It is in many of the common materials used in the building trade that you may come across during your work.

  1. Sprayed coatings on ceilings, walls, beams and columns
  2. Asbestos cement water tank
  3. Loose fill insulation
  4. Lagging on boilers and pipes
  5. AIB ceiling tiles
  6. Toilet seat and cistern
  7. AIB partition walls
  8. AIB panels in fire doors
  9. Asbestos rope seals, gaskets and paper
  10. Vinyl floor tiles
  11. AIB around boilers
  12. Textiles eg fire blankets
  13. Textured decorating coatings on walls and ceilings eg artex
  14.  Asbestos cement roof
  15. Asbestos cement panels
  16. Asbestos cement gutters and downpipes
  17. Soffits – AIB or asbestos cement
  18. Asbestos cement flue

AIB = Asbestos Insulating Board


Asbestos can be found in any residential building built or refurbished before the year 2000.



A. Asbestos cement Water tank

B. Pipe lagging

C. Loose fill insulation

D. Textured decorative coating eg artex

E. AIB ceiling tiles

F. AIB bath panel

G. Toilet seat and cistern

H. AIB behind fuse box

I. AIB airing cupboard and/or sprayed insulation coating boiler

J. AIB partition wall

K. AIB interior window panel

L. AIB around boiler

M. Vinyl floor tiles

N. AIB behind fire


O. Gutters and Asbestos cement downpipes

P. Soffits – AIB or asbestos cement

Q. AIB exterior window panel

R. Asbestos cement roof

S. Asbestos cement panels

T. Roofing felt

AIB = Asbestos Insulating Board