A worker's guide to asbestos safety


If your work is likely to involve asbestos, you and your employer must take action to make sure you and others are not exposed to it.

There are serious risks to your health if asbestos is disturbed or damaged and harmful fibres are released into the air.

This guide will help you:

  • understand where asbestos-containing materials may be found
  • know what your employer must do to protect you and others before doing work which may disturb asbestos
  • know what to do if you discover or accidentally disturb asbestos to keep yourself and others safe
  • understand what work with asbestos must only be carried out by a licensed asbestos contractor

We have videos for workers to help you keep yourself and others safe from asbestos.

There is separate advice for workers in buildings containing asbestos. It explains how you should be protected from exposure, for example as a teacher.

Why asbestos is dangerous for workers

Exposure to asbestos is the greatest cause of work-related deaths in Great Britain. Around 5000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases.

These diseases typically take decades to develop and cannot be cured.

Left alone and in good condition, the risk from asbestos is low. However, once it is disturbed, asbestos fibres can be released and you can breathe them in. This can cause lung disease and cancer, which could prove fatal.

You cannot see, smell or feel the fibres in the air or on your clothes, so you do not know asbestos is there.

More information on why asbestos is dangerous and where it can be found

Locations of asbestos and actions to take

If you think you have found asbestos

If you come across any material you think may contain asbestos, you should:

  • stop work
  • speak to your employer, or the building owner, to find out if there is asbestos in the building

Your employer should ask to see the building’s asbestos register or survey and check they have enough information to do the work. For example, if you are breaking into the building fabric a refurbishment survey may be required. Do not do any work until this has been completed.

Even if a survey has been done, it might not have found every location of asbestos. When you are starting work, be aware that asbestos could still be hidden.

You must also not start work if you have not had training to work with or around asbestos.

There is some work that must be carried out by a licensed asbestos contractor.

If asbestos is disturbed

If asbestos is disturbed during your work it must be dealt with quickly and appropriately.

You must stop work immediately and follow the guidance on what to do if you discover or accidentally disturb asbestos.

Workers most likely to come across asbestos

There are some trades where you are more likely to come across asbestos in your work. You should be properly trained on what to do.

If you are working on the structure of a building, the activities that could put you at most risk include:

  • maintenance or repair
  • refurbishment or retrofitting
  • demolition
  • installation, for example of smart meters

You are also more likely to be at risk if:

  • the areas you are due to work in have not been inspected for asbestos-containing materials beforehand
  • information about asbestos-containing materials was not passed on to you by the people in charge of the work
  • you have not had appropriate training to recognise and work safely with asbestos
  • the building you are working on was built or refurbished before the year 2000
  • you choose to put yourself at risk by not following proper precautions or training, perhaps to save time or because no one else is

If you are a worker in an owner-occupied home, you and your employer must still take action to ensure that you and others are not exposed to asbestos.

Training and information for work involving asbestos

What your employer must do

Your employer must take steps to protect you and others from the dangers of asbestos. If you are self-employed you are responsible.

If your work could disturb the fabric of a building, your employer must:

  • provide you with asbestos awareness training – this does not allow you to work on asbestos
  • always establish if asbestos is likely to be disturbed during your work
  • ensure you know what to do if you discover or disturb and release asbestos accidentally during your work

Your employer must also make sure any work that disturbs asbestos is risk assessed, planned and completed by appropriately trained and competent workers.

Non-licensed asbestos work

If you need to carry out lower-risk work on asbestos, known as non-licensed work, your employer must:

  • carry out an asbestos risk assessment and plan the work
  • put the right controls in place to protect you and others
  • provide you with training for non-licensable work appropriate for the tasks you plan to carry out

Examples of lower-risk, non-licensed work with asbestos

Work that must be carried out by a licensed contractor

Higher-risk work with asbestos must be carried out by a contractor licensed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

If you’re not a licensed contractor, your employer should not ask you to carry out this work.

You must therefore not carry out work on:

  • asbestos loose fill insulation
  • asbestos sprayed coating, known as limpet
  • pre-formed insulation, for example asbestos pipe lagging
  • most repair or any removal of asbestos insulation, such as lagging on pipes and vessels for thermal insulation
  • most work on asbestos insulating boards, such as removal of partition walls, linings, and suspended ceilings
  • large amounts of asbestos-containing debris or material, for example clearing up after a fire, flood or water leak

If in doubt, assume the work is licensed and stop work until you are told otherwise.

More information on licensable work with asbestos

Before you start work

It is important that you and your employer talk about and understand the actions needed to keep you and other people safe.

The actions your employer could take include:

  • checking if the building was built or refurbished before the year 2000
  • getting a copy of the current building asbestos register and ensuring you both understand the information and are satisfied it covers the areas you are planning to work in
  • planning the job, if possible, to avoid disturbing asbestos

Your employer can also check if an appropriate survey has been done to find the location and condition of any asbestos in the area where you are working. This should include any asbestos hidden within the building fabric.

Before you start work, they must make sure any asbestos is safely removed or easily repaired and protected, for example by enclosing the asbestos with panelling. This will usually require a specialist contractor licensed by HSE.

More information on what your employer should do for any work with asbestos

What you must do as a worker

As a worker there are things you must do to protect yourself and others.

If you know you are going to be carrying out non-licensed work on asbestos, and are trained to do so, you should:

  • plan your work with your employer
  • follow the control measures your employer has put in place to minimise the release of dust
  • use your protective equipment, including suitable respiratory protective equipment or RPE
  • wear your RPE properly, as shown in your training, and make sure you have passed a face fit test for the specific model and size of your respirator
  • always wear disposable overalls suitable for asbestos work
  • make sure any waste is double-bagged – this must be disposed of properly by your employer
  • ensure you know what to do if you discover or disturb and release asbestos accidentally during your work

More information on personal protective equipment you need when working with asbestos.

You must never:

  • use power tools without dust control measures in place, such as shadow vacuuming and using drill cowls as local extraction
  • sweep dust and debris. Always use a Type H vacuum cleaner or wet rags
  • reuse disposable clothing or RPE
  • eat or drink in the work area

Our asbestos essentials task sheets provide guidance on a wide range of non-licensed work activities where asbestos is commonly found.

Your duties if you are self-employed

Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations, as a self-employed person, you will have the same responsibilities as an employer and a worker.

Videos for workers on asbestos safety

The following two videos will help you keep yourself and others safe from asbestos:

Learn how to be asbestos aware

Download the learn how to be asbestos aware transcript

Working safely with asbestos

Download the working safely with asbestos transcript

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