Asbestos Risks in the Construction Industry

Asbestos Risks in the Construction Industry

26th September 2016

The use of asbestos and asbestos containing materials (ACMs) was totally banned in the UK in the year 2000.  However, that was less than fifteen years ago and this doesn’t mean that asbestos is no longer causing a problem.  Asbestos was commonly used in the construction industry in the UK until then and, as many of us know, most of the buildings in the UK were built before the date of the ban.  This means that the majority of buildings in the UK are likely to contain asbestos or ACMs somewhere in the construction.  Even buildings that were constructed well before the use of asbestos became commonplace may not be free from asbestos.   Working in the construction industry means that we’re more likely to be exposed to the harmful effects of asbestos than the general population, especially those of us who are carrying out remodelling/refurbishment projects.

Many older and historic buildings here in Britain (especially larger and institutional buildings) have undergone a change of purpose.  This has often meant that they have had refurbishment and remodelling work done during the 20th Century in order to upgrade them for modern usage.  Much of this remodelling work will have included dividing larger spaces into smaller rooms/units and the dividing walls may well contain ACMs.  Moreover, older buildings that have had new flooring installed were very often fitted with floor tiles that may contain asbestos or ACMs.  This means that anybody living or working in buildings built before the year 2000 may well be at risk of asbestos exposure.

Many of our period houses in the UK (especially the larger properties) were built to house families who had servants.  There are beautiful residences in towns and cities all over the UK that are too big for the average modern family and a large percentage of these have been converted to multiple residence – divided into apartments and bedsits during the seventies and eighties as the average British family unit became smaller.  The remodelling work on these period houses is very likely to have involved the use of asbestos or ACMs.

With asbestos enjoying such widespread use over so many years, buildings in the UK are likely to contain asbestos in several places, including:

  • Pipe insulation
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Asbestos cement sheeting
  • Sprayed and textured coatings (especially on walls and ceilings)
  • Soffit boards
  • Boards around windows, fireplaces and radiators
  • Boilers
  • Gaskets and sealants on pipes
  • Electrical boxes
  • Fire doors

This means that we have a ticking time bomb in the UK as far as asbestos is concerned and those of us who work in the construction industry need to be aware of the risks associated with asbestos and what we can do to protect ourselves, our families and our employees.  Home owners will need to educate themselves about asbestos - where you’re likely to find it and what to do when you do find it.  Commercial premises are covered by strict regulations which require the duty holder to manage asbestos in a controlled manner (which we will cover in another blog post).

This means that here in the UK we can’t afford to become complacent about asbestos despite the total ban.  When we want to find out who’s at risk with asbestos, the answer is (unless you live in a house built since 2000 and never visit buildings constructed before that date) – you’re at risk, I’m at risk, we’re all at risk!