What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material which was regularly used in buildings from the 1950s until the late 1990s due to its ‘miracle’ properties. It is still found today in many buildings, including domestic and non-domestic premises, schools and hospitals.  

Asbestos is classified as a category 1 carcinogen – idisturbed; it can be deadly. 

The three main common types of asbestos are blue (crocidolite), brown (amosite) and white (chrysotile) asbestos, which were used in countless building products. As it was often mixed with other materials it can be hard to identity. 

Inhaling loose asbestos fibres is known to cause several serious and even fatal diseases – there was no surprise when it was finally banned in 1999. 

You may often come across asbestos while you are working, but so long as the asbestos is well maintained and not disturbed or disintegrating it doesn’t present an immediate risk to your health. 

For more information about asbestos, please visit https://www.ukata.org.uk/library/about-asbestos/ 

This information has been produced in partnership with the UK Asbestos Training Association (UKATA).  

History of asbestos 

Imported into the UK from countries such as Canada and South Africa, asbestos started to be widely used in the Industrial Revolution during the late 1800’s.  

Uses for asbestos were being invented regularly due to its resistance to chemicals, heat, water and electricitywhich also made it an excellent insulator for steam engines, turbines, boilers, ovens and electrical generators.  

The shipbuilding industry also used large amounts of asbestos-containing material to insulate pipes, boilers, and incinerators. Due to its wide use, people who worked in the industry were those most affected by asbestos-related diseases.  

Post war, it was a cheap commodity and used to rebuild Britain and therefore, asbestos can be found in many buildings built before 1999. 

Common products that contain asbestos 

Industrial Properties 

  • Sprayed coatings on ceilings and walls 
  • Lagging on boilers and pipes 
  • Asbestos cement 
  • Asbestos Insulating Board 
  • Vinyl floor tiles 

Residential Properties 

  • Pipe lagging 
  • Loose fill loft insulation 
  • Asbestos insulating board 
  • Textured decorative coatings 
  • Soffits 

The first documented death from asbestos was as far back as 1906, however it wasn’t until the 1950s that the first report linking asbestos and lung cancer was produced.  

From the 1950s onwards there was an understanding in the medical community of the link between asbestos and cancer, although the first report linking asbestos to mesothelioma specifically wasn’t until 1960.  

In 1985 the first mandatory ban on asbestos was introduced, but this only covered blue and brown asbestos. White asbestos is far more common in the UK, and was not banned until 1999  

Decorative Coating
Sprayed Coating
Asbestos Loose Fill
Asbestos Lagging

For more images of asbestos in-situ, click here.