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Understanding the HSE’s Your Duty Campaign: Dangers & Risks of Asbestos Exposure

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Written by: Gary Broadley
22nd April

Navigating the hidden dangers of asbestos doesn’t have to be daunting. While this unseen hazard can pose serious health risks that may not surface for years, understanding and managing asbestos exposure is key to safeguarding your health.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has initiated the Your Duty campaign, aimed at assisting businesses and organisations in comprehending their responsibilities regarding asbestos management. This includes understanding the scope of their duty, determining its applicability to their operations, and outlining the steps to take if it does apply.

What does this mean for you? The HSE will check how asbestos is managed when visiting a range of buildings – like schools and hospitals – requiring those responsible for managing asbestos risks to ensure they have the right arrangements in place.

This article breaks down the essentials, offering insights into how asbestos exposure happens, its risks, and strategies for its safe management and removal. Also, it highlights how SafeWorkforce significantly benefits contractors by providing the knowledge and tools to fulfil Health and Safety (H&S) requirements easily. Let’s explore how you can stay informed and protected, with SafeWorkforce by your side to lighten the load.

The Threat of Asbestos:

Although the UK fully banned asbestos in 1999, its presence persists in buildings across various industries. There's a mandatory legal requirement to mitigate the risk of asbestos exposure to workers, contractors, and visitors.

In this context, if you partner with SafeWorkforce, we can assist in understanding and meeting your Health and Safety (H&S) obligations. It provides you with the necessary tools and resources to proactively reduce risks to your workforce and business. By strengthening policies and enabling teams, SafeWorkforce ensures the smooth implementation of safety measures across your organisation, offering a comprehensive approach to asbestos risk management.

Asbestos & associated health risks

Asbestos was commonly used in construction in the 20th century for its fire resistance and ability to strengthen and insulate other materials. Many buildings in the UK built before 2000, particularly those constructed before 1985, contain asbestos.

Asbestos in Construction Materials

Asbestos was used in various materials, such as ceiling tiles, roofing, and insulation. The three main types of asbestos used in construction were: Chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos), Amosite (brown asbestos), Crocidolite (blue asbestos). Each type found its way into different construction materials. For instance, amosite was used extensively in cement sheets (Asbestos Insulating Boards – AIB), pipe insulation, and ceiling tiles, while chrysotile was a common element in the roofs, ceilings, walls, and floors of buildings.

Health Risks Associated with Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos, widely used in construction during the 20th century for its fire resistance and insulation properties, still lingers in many UK buildings constructed before 2000, especially those erected prior to 1985. It was commonly incorporated into materials like ceiling tiles, roofing, flooring material, bitumen products and insulation, with three primary types: Chrysotile (white), Amosite (brown), and Crocidolite (blue).

Exposure to asbestos carries severe health risks, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Mesothelioma, primarily caused by asbestos exposure, exhibits symptoms after a latent period of 15 to 60 years. Furthermore, asbestos exposure heightens the risk of lung cancer, sometimes leading to misdiagnosis due to similarities with smoking-related symptoms.

Prolonged exposure to asbestos can lead to asbestosis, characterized by lung scarring and breathing difficulties, and pleural plaques, thickened lung linings that may increase the risk of pleural mesothelioma or lung cancer. These conditions significantly impact health and well-being, emphasizing the hazards of asbestos exposure.

Legal Duty to Manage Asbestos

Asbestos exposure has health and legal implications. The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and the Approved Code of Practice (L143) offers guidance on assessing, managing, and working with asbestos-containing materials in the UK. Duty holders, such as building owners or landlords, must evaluate the presence, quantity, location, and condition of asbestos-containing materials.

The HSE recently launched an Asbestos Your Duty Campaign, which highlights these responsibilities, summarised in a helpful video.

Identifying Asbestos-Containing Materials

Surveyors assess the location and condition of asbestos-containing materials and compile the information in a detailed report. Certified professionals employ visual inspections and laboratory analysis, including asbestos air monitoring following an asbestos disturbance or removal project, to identify asbestos presence and ensure accurate detection. An asbestos risk register is regularly updated with the presence of asbestos and is a critical component of communication to anyone liable to come into contact with asbestos.

Asbestos Awareness and Training

Specialised asbestos training is imperative for construction and demolition workers because it enables them to identify asbestos and understand proper work practices to prevent exposure. While e-learning courses provide delegates with an understanding of asbestos and its dangers, they do not provide information on how to work with it.

Personnel who plan to undertake work that will disturb asbestos require a higher level of information, instruction and training, in addition to asbestos awareness. This should take account of whether the work is non-licensed; notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW); or licensed work and should be job specific.

Licensed Asbestos Removal

Generally, the higher risk work with asbestos falls into this category. Such works must be completed by a licensed asbestos contractor. Licensable work with asbestos is work:

  • Where asbestos exposure is not sporadic or of a low intensity.
  • Where the risk assessments cannot show that asbestos fibres in the air will be below the control limit. This limit is 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (averaged over a 4-hour period).
  • Where asbestos sprayed coatings are being removed.
  • Where asbestos insulation is being removed.
  • Where asbestos insulation board is being removed and the risk assessment indicates that it will not be of short duration.

Licensed asbestos removal projects need to be notified to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This process is subject to a 14-day notification period.

a. Licensed contractors are specially trained to assess risks, create work plans, and comply with safety regulations for asbestos work which also includes handling and disposal. Violations of asbestos regulations can result in severe penalties, including fines, incarceration, and probation.

Licensed professionals should remove high-risk asbestos to ensure safety. Disposal of asbestos-containing equipment must involve a licensed contractor and comply with regulated guidelines, including transport with a consignment note to an authorised asbestos waste facility.

Renovation and Demolition: Increased Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos disturbed during renovation and demolition activities can release fibres into the air, significantly increasing the risk of asbestos exposure. In structures built before the 1990s, the possibility of encountering asbestos during home renovation projects remains high despite current regulations. Do-it-yourself individuals are particularly at risk of asbestos exposure when working on renovations in older homes where asbestos may be present.

Conducting Asbestos Surveys

Before construction or demolition, it's crucial to identify any asbestos. To safely do so, the following steps are essential:

1. Perform asbestos surveys pre-refurbishment/demolition.

2. Plan projects with asbestos considerations.

3. Engage experienced contractors for asbestos-related work.

In-depth surveys are critical to locate hidden asbestos. SafeWorkforce Health & Safety offers guidance and advice on risk mitigation for dealing with asbestos containing materials.

Future Challenges and Innovations in Asbestos Detection and Removal

As the asbestos industry evolves, it confronts challenges and welcomes innovations:

  • The Alert PRO monitor, a promising technology, offers instant airborne asbestos detection, distinguishing harmful fibres accurately.
  • Asbestos removal, costly and complex due to its concealed nature, requires meticulous planning.
  • Technological progress prompts updates in asbestos regulations, adding layers to its management.

These advancements make asbestos detection and removal more effective, safer, and sustainable.


The threat of asbestos exposure is real and present in our daily lives, particularly for those living or working in buildings built before the ban on asbestos use. It's a hidden danger, often unnoticed until it's too late. However, the risks can be significantly mitigated with increased asbestos awareness via high-profile campaigns, proper training, and adherence to legal obligations.


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