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HSE Hidden Killer Campaign

Asbestos is the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

What is asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that has been a popular building material since the 1950s. It is used as an insulator (to keep in heat and keep out cold), has good fire protection properties and protects against corrosion.

Because asbestos is often mixed with another material, it's hard to know if you're working with it or not. Asbestos could be present in any building that was built or refurbished before the year 2000 so if you work in a building built before then, it's likely that some parts of the building will contain asbestos.

Asbestos is found in many products used in buildings, including ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, boilers and sprayed coatings.

Working with asbestos

It's possible that you've worked with, or disturbed asbestos before, but knowing how asbestos can affect your life should make sure you avoid disturbing it, or that you are trained and always work with it safely.

Always ask if the building has been checked for asbestos, it's your right to be protected from this dangerous substance by seeing the asbestos survey and register.

In non-domestic buildings you have a right to be given information about the condition and location of asbestos by the person who manages the building before you start work and you must pass this information on to anyone working for you on the job. You should ask for this when tendering or quoting for work as the information about asbestos will help you to cost the job correctly, plan the work safely and prevent potentially expensive surprises on site.


So before you start work on anywhere built before the year 2000, check that: 

  • You are not working on asbestos-containing products
  • For domestic premises, you still need to establish if there is anywhere asbestos can be found on site
  • For non-domestic premises, you should have seen the information on the location and condition of asbestos before you start work by checking the asbestos register that should be held on the premises

Don't start work if:

  • You are not sure if there is asbestos where you are working
  • The asbestos materials are sprayed coatings, board or insulation and lagging on pipes and boilers - only licensed contractors should work on these
  • You have not been trained to do non-licensed work with asbestos. Basic awareness training is not enough

You should only continue to work if:

  • The work has been properly planned and the right precautions are in place (eg. you have the right equipment)
  • The materials are asbestos cement, textured coatings and certain other materials which do not need a licence (listed in Asbestos Essentials)
  • You have had training in asbestos work and know how to work with it safely


If you need to work with asbestos, make sure that you: 

  • Use hand tools - not power tools
  • Keep materials damp - not too wet
  • Wear a properly fitted, suitable mask (eg. disposable FFP3 type). An ordinary dust mask will not be effective
  • Don't smoke, eat or drink in the work area
  • Double-bag asbestos waste and label the bags properly
  • Clean up as you go - use a special (Class H) vacuum cleaner, not a brush
  • After work, wipe down your overalls with a damp rag or wear disposable overalls (Type 5)
  • Always remove overalls before removing your mask
  • Don't take overalls home to wash
  • Wear boots without laces or disposable boot covers
  • Put disposable clothing items in asbestos waste bags and dispose of them properly
  • Don't carry asbestos into your car or home

Asbestos Essentials task sheets will show you how to do a range of non-licensed tasks safely. They are free to download at:

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