Locations of asbestos and taking the right action

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This guidance is for anyone who may come across asbestos in their work. It has images that can help you identify asbestos in typical locations. It also tells you:

Work on any type of asbestos can be dangerous. The examples show both lower and high-risk tasks. They also clearly indicate where people will require specific asbestos training to do the work safely.

Our Asbestos essentials task sheets cover guidance for some of the lower-risk work activities, or non-licensed work.

High-risk activities must be worked on by a HSE-licensed contractor.

We also have:

You must stop work and follow our guidance if you think you have found asbestos.

Asbestos insulating board (AIB)

Where it is found

Asbestos insulating board (AIB) was commonly used for fire protection in a range of locations:

What it looks like

AIB can be in normal building items such as wall panel boards, ceiling tiles and plasterboard. It is difficult to tell the difference between AIB items and non-asbestos equivalents. It may also be sandwiched between or surfaced with non-asbestos products.

Who can work on it

Some short duration work for small or minor maintenance tasks on AIB can be carried out by non-licensed workers. Some work may be notifiable non-licensed work.

We have guidance on deciding if the work must be done by a licensed contractor. They must be trained to recognise and work safely with asbestos.

Asbestos essentials includes a number of task sheets which will show you how to safely carry out non-licensed work on AIB.

Examples of lower-risk, non-licensed work activities

Examples include:

Examples of higher-risk activities (use a licensed contractor)

Examples include:

Asbestos cement products

Where they are found

Asbestos cement is moulded and compressed to produce a range of asbestos cement products, such as:

  • cement roofs – made up of large profiled asbestos cement sheeting
  • wall cladding – similar to roof sheeting but can be flat and often found on buildings with asbestos cement roofs
  • downpipes and gutters – often attached at the end of cement roofs in warehouse type buildings
  • cement flues – sometimes found in boiler systems (including domestic), air conditioning and ventilation systems
  • water and sewage pipes – often made of pitch fibre, strengthened by asbestos cement

What they look like

Asbestos cement is just ordinary cement mixed with asbestos, in some cases asbestos can make up over a third of the cement. It is a hard, grey material which was moulded and compressed to produce some of the materials listed above.

Who can work on them

Tasks on these materials should be carried out by non-licensed workers who are trained to recognise and work safely with asbestos. This work would generally not need to be notified.

Asbestos essentials includes a number of task sheets which will show you how to safely carry out non-licensed work on asbestos cement products.

If the work is likely to cause significant break-up and deterioration of the material, for example dropping an asbestos cement roof, then notification of non-licensed work would be required.

There is specific guidance for demolition involving asbestos cement roof sheets.

There may be exceptional circumstances where the asbestos cement has been so badly damaged that there is significant risk of exposure to asbestos fibres. In these cases a risk assessment will help to determine if a licensed contractor is required.

Our guidance on licensable work with asbestos can help you decide if a licensed contractor is required.

Bulk identification can take place to confirm whether a material is asbestos cement. Where this bulk identification is inconclusive, a competent asbestos analyst will be able to do a water absorption test.

This will determine if the material is asbestos cement, asbestos millboard or asbestos insulating board. Asbestos millboard or asbestos insulating boards are likely to require a licensed contractor to carry out the work.

Examples of lower-risk, non-licensed work activities

Examples include:

Floor coverings

Where they are found

Asbestos was added to PVC and thermoplastic floor tiles, stair nosings, sheet materials and screed materials. They can be found in areas like corridors and kitchens. Old asbestos floor tiles can be hidden under carpets.

What they look like

Floor tiles and coverings containing asbestos come in many types and can be hard to identify. Some will have been stuck down using asbestos containing mastics and some backed with asbestos paper.

Who can work on them

Tasks on these materials should be carried out by non-licensed workers who are trained to recognise and work safely with asbestos.

If the work is likely to cause significant break-up and deterioration of the material then notification as non-licensed work would be required. Removal of floor tiles with an asbestos-paper backing will also be notifiable non-licensed work.

Asbestos essentials includes a number of task sheets which will show you how to safely carry out non-licensed work on these materials.

Examples of lower-risk, non-licensed work activities

Activities with lower risk can be non-licensed work and include:

For other, higher-risk activities such as grinding off flooring materials you must use an HSE licensed contractor.

Textured decorative coatings

Where they are found

Textured coatings were used to produce decorative finishes on ceilings and walls. In the past, they have had various trade names such as 'Artex'.

What they look like

This is dependent on the particular decorative finish required, such as peaks or patterns. They are hard and were originally white in colour but have often been painted over.

Who can work on them

Work on textured coatings is low-risk and can be carried out by non-licensed workers. However, they must be trained to recognise and work safely with asbestos.

If the work is likely to cause significant break up and deterioration of the material such as large-scale removal using steaming or gelling methods, then notification as non-licensed work would be required.

Asbestos essentials includes a number of task sheets which will show you how to safely carry out non-licensed work on textured coatings.

Examples of lower risk activities (non-licensed work)

These include:

Examples of higher-risk activities (use a licensed contractor)

These include:

Asbestos textiles and gaskets

Where they are found

Textiles can be found in fuse boxes behind the actual fuse and in old plant and equipment such as ovens. Asbestos string was widely used in the past by plumbers for sealing various screw thread joints.

Asbestos rope seals and gaskets can be found in gas or electric heating appliances. A wide range of asbestos gaskets have been produced and used for sealing pipe and valve joints in industrial plant, but, for example, they may also be found in some older domestic boilers.

What they look like

Asbestos textiles were manufactured for primary heat protection uses, for example insulation tapes and ropes. Textiles were also used widely as a reinforcing material in friction products and composites.

Who can work on them

Maintenance and low risk work, such as removing gaskets so they remain virtually intact without substantial breakage. Tasks on these materials should be carried out by non-licensed workers who are trained to recognise and work safely with asbestos.

If the gasket or seals are substantially broken up or damaged during removal then the work will be notifiable non-licensed work.

Example of lower-risk, non-licensed activities

Examples include:

Asbestos Essentials includes a number of task sheets which will show you how to safely carry out non-licensed work on these materials.

Thermal insulation (lagging)

Where it is found

Asbestos lagging is mostly found in or on heating systems such as around boilers or calorifiers and around pipework.

What it looks like

This type of asbestos has many different appearances but is mostly a fibrous material which flakes and powders easily. When applied to pipes it is often covered in a protective coating (or painted) which can be any colour, and may make it more difficult to identify. Residues of thermal insulation may also be found on brickwork and in ducts.

Who can work on it

Most work on asbestos lagging is high risk and must be done by an HSE licensed contractor.

This is one of the most dangerous materials containing asbestos. You are more at risk from breathing in asbestos fibres because disturbance of the lagging or insulation releases fibres very easily into the air that you breathe.

Sprayed asbestos coatings

Where they are found

This can be insulation on the underside of roofs and sometimes the sides of buildings and warehouses. It is also used as fire protection on steel and reinforced concrete beams or columns and on the underside of floors.

It was very easy to overspray or get a 'splash back' from the equipment used to apply this so there is likely to be debris around the sprayed area.

What they look like

They are usually white or grey in colour with a rough surface, although they may have been painted.

Who can work on them

All work with sprayed coatings is high risk and must be done by an HSE licensed contractor.

This material contains up to 85% asbestos and breaks up very easily. It is one of the most dangerous materials containing asbestos. Even minor disturbance of sprayed coatings can release large quantities of asbestos fibres into the air where they can be breathed in.

Loose asbestos cavity insulation

Where it is found

This can be found in between cavity walls, under floorboards and in loft spaces.

What it looks like

It is a loose, fluffy insulation material (similar to candyfloss), which may be blue-grey or whitish in colour.

Who can work on it

This is probably the most dangerous asbestos-containing material. Loose fill is made up of pure asbestos and if disturbed can release large amounts of fibres into the air, where they can be breathed in.

Do not work on this material under any circumstances unless you are an HSE-licensed contractor.

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Updated 2023-12-15