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Identifying Asbestos. Aim. The aim of this Training Tool is to provide you with the following information to ensure the safety of your workforce: What is asbestos? Facts Where is asbestos found? What does asbestos look like? How can you identify asbestos? Hidden killer – diseases

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  • The aim of this Training Tool is to provide you with the following information to ensure the safety of your workforce:
  • What is asbestos?
  • Facts
  • Where is asbestos found?
  • What does asbestos look like?
  • How can you identify asbestos?
  • Hidden killer – diseases
  • Asbestos training legal requirements
  • Working with asbestos

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.

But, if you work in a building built before the year 2000, it's likely that some parts of the building will contain asbestos.



Each week approximately

8 joiners

6 electricians

4 plumbers

die from asbestos-related diseases.

Each year approximately 4000 people die from asbestos. That’s more than are killed on the roads.

Each week approximately 20tradesmen die from this hidden killer.


Where is Asbestos found?

Sprayed coating

Found as fire protection on structural supports (e.g. columns and beams). It is a high hazard asbestos product and can generate very high fibre levels if disturbed.

Pipe Insulation

Asbestos thermal pipe lagging is a high hazard asbestos product.

Asbestos Insulating Board (also referred to as AIB) ceiling and door panels

AIB is a high hazard asbestos product and can generate high levels of fibres if the board is cut or drilled.

AIB window panels

Like other AIB, this is a high hazard asbestos product, and if in good condition should be left undisturbed.

Floor tiles

Vinyl (PVC) or thermoplastic tiles contain asbestos.

  • Asbestos cement roof sheeting
  • Asbestos cement sheeting is often found on industrial building roofs and walls.
  • Textured decorative coating (such as Artex)
  • Textured coatings contain a small amount of asbestos. The asbestos is well bonded and fibres are not easily released. However, it is still an asbestos product, and as such, needs to be worked with safely.
  • Others:
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Boilers
  • Board around windows, radiators, fireplaces, building columns and pillars
  • Soffit boards
  • Inside fire doors
  • Gaskets and sealants on pipe joints
  • Fuse boxes and electrical switch gear

Asbestos house & where it can be found

1. Water Tank

2. Pipe Lagging

3. Property Insulation

4. Textured coating (e.g. artex)

5. Soffit Board (roof overhang)

6. Toilet cistern

7. Wall panelling

8. Fuse box

9. Heater cupboard

10. Floor tiles

11. Rainwater items such as roof gutters and down pipes


What does asbestos look like?

Pieces of AIB

Asbestos Fire Blanket

AIB ceiling tiles in a corridor

Asbestos cement downpipe

Damaged asbestos panelling

Asbestos containing floor tiles

Asbestos cement roof

Torn asbestos pipe lagging

Wall with trowelled loose asbestos


What does asbestos look like?

Pipe insulated using asbestos lagging and rope

Sprayed 'limpet' asbestos on underside of an asbestos cement roof

AIB window panelling

Asbestos cement drainage downpipe

AIB window sill

Asbestos soffit

Asbestos cement external building panel

Asbestos panelling around gas meter

Asbestos textured coating


How can you identify asbestos?

Because asbestos is often mixed with another material, it's hard to know if you're working with it or not.

Asbestos materials in good condition are safe unless asbestos fibres become airborne and then inhaled, which happens when materials are damaged.

If you are unsure whether you are working with asbestos materials where you are working… stop and check.

People in charge of workplace buildings have a legal duty to provide you with up-to-date information on the location and condition of asbestos before you start work.


The “Hidden Killer”

  • Exposure to asbestos can cause four main diseases:
    • Mesothelioma – cancer of the lining of the lungs; it is always fatal and is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos
    • Asbestos-related lung cancer – which is almost always fatal
    • Asbestosis – a scarring of the lungs which is not always fatal but can be a very debilitating disease, greatly affecting quality of life
    • Diffuse pleural thickening – a thickening of the membrane surrounding the lungs which can restrict lung expansion leading to breathlessness.

It can take 15-60 years for any symptoms to develop after exposure, so these diseases will not affect you immediately but may do later in life. You need to start protecting yourself against any exposure to asbestos now because the effect is cumulative.


Asbestos training – legal requirement

If you plan to disturb asbestos, e.g. by drilling a hole in textured coating or removing an asbestos ceiling tile, then as well as awareness training, you will need job-specific, non-licenced asbestos training. This will give you the skills to:

  • Use and fit a face mask
  • Use safe work methods
  • Deal with asbestos waste
  • Safely carry out non-licenced tasks – such as painting undamaged asbestos insulation board, cleaning light fittings attached to asbestos insulating boards and cleaning guttering on an asbestos cement roof.

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 licenced contractors should work on these
  • You have not been trained to do non-licenced work with asbestos. Basic awareness training is not enough.

You should only continue work if…

Work has been properly planned and the right precautions are in place (e.g. you have the right equipment)

The materials are asbestos cement, textured coatings and certain other materials which do not need a licence

You have had training in asbestos work and know how to work with it safely.


If you work with asbestos…

Use hand tools – not power tools

Keep materials damp – not too wet

Wear a properly fitted, suitable face mask, (e.g. disposable FFP3 type). An ordinary dust mask will NOT be effective

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

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

Don’t smoke, eat or drink in the work area

Don’t take overalls home to wash.


More information

The HSE has a range of Asbestos Essentials task sheets that will show you how to carry out a range of non-licenced tasks safely.

They are free to download at

For a fantastic range of PPE, Asbestos Safety Signs, Tapes and Training Aids, go to


Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.