Thousands of DIY enthusiasts are unnecessarily exposing themselves to asbestos without realising, despite the dangers of asbestos being promoted heavily for the past 10 years by government organisations such as the Health & Safety Executive.
Asbestos exists in many properties built before 2000 yet homeowners are often unaware as it can be hidden behind plaster, covered by carpets or painted over. Yet many DIYer’s go ahead with work oblivious to the dangers that may exist.
Asbestos was once hailed as the answer to cheap and warm housing as it has excellent thermal properties, doesn’t burn and doesn’t conduct electricity. It can also be light-weight and cheap to produce. However, over the past 50 years evidence has proven that fibres contained within asbestos products are hazardous to human health and can cause diseases such as cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma even with minimal exposure. Sadly this evidence didn’t become apparent until some years after asbestos products were put into use.
Because of the way that asbestos was used in construction it is often hard (if not impossible) to see. So it’s hard to know when drilling into a wall or dismantling old guttering whether the material you’re working on contains asbestos. The only way know for certain is to have the material asbestos tested.
It is therefore recommended that you follow some guidelines to ensure that you minimise the risk to you or those around you:
The Health & Safety Executive advise that if you’re in any doubt as to whether a product contains asbestos you should presume that it does and treat the area that you are working in as hazardous. Don’t attempt to work on the area and seek advice from a specialist asbestos contractor before continuing with a DIY project. You may also need to have an asbestos survey carried out before work commences.
Never attempt to work on an area that you think may contain asbestos
Never attempt to work on an area that you think may contain asbestos without seeking the correct advice.
Asbestos comes in many different forms including (but not exclusively) pipe lagging, insulation, bath panels, ceiling tiles, floor tiles and even textured coatings such as Artex.
Make yourself aware of the forms of asbestos and don’t work on any asbestos containing materials without the correct training and remember that some forms of asbestos are more hazardous than others. You can find a comprehensive list of where asbestos might be hidden on the HSE website.
Just wearing a standard dusk mask won’t afford you reasonable protection against asbestos fibres. Specialist asbestos removal operative use professional, high quality respirators which are regularly tested and fitted to their specific facial profile.
Have it tested
If you suspect that a material contains asbestos, the best course of action is to have it tested.