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Date updated: 31/03/2023
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What is it?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material and has been used for about 150 years on a large scale. It is versatile, plentiful and ideal as a fire-proofing and insulation material which explains why it was used extensively as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s.

However, any type of building built or refurbished up to 2000 including houses, factories, offices, schools and hospitals could still contain asbestos.

Inhaling asbestos

If a person inhales asbestos fibres they can become lodged in the tissue of the chest and the body's natural defences may not be able to easily break them down. This can lead to lung diseases or cancer, particularly if the person is repeatedly exposed to fibres over a number of years. Tragically, asbestos is now the single greatest cause of work-related deaths in the UK.

The risks

Generally, asbestos is only a risk if it is disturbed or damaged causing the fibres to be released into the air. If asbestos containing materials are in good condition and in a position where they are not going to be disturbed or damaged then it is safer to leave them where they are and ensure that the risks are managed.


The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 require employers/the self-employed to not carry out work which is liable to expose employees to asbestos unless a suitable and sufficient risk assessment has been undertaken. The risks then need to be reduced to the lowest level that is reasonably practicable. For many employers this will simply mean prohibiting working with asbestos. However, this requires employers to know about asbestos risks at their premises which are not always clear - please see the duty to manage asbestos section below.

​The duty to manage asbestos is a legal requirement within the regulations aimed at persons who are responsible for premises. They must have identified where, if any, asbestos is located in the premises and draw up a plan for managing it. This is often a shared duty between landlords and tenants and you should check your contract if you have any doubt. Whilst it is feasible to assume that all materials could contain asbestos and proceed on that basis, most organisations will seek the advice of a competent surveyor to locate and assess any asbestos containing material for them.

A survey of the premises is usually the starting place for any assessment of the risks posed by asbestos. Samples may be taken and sent for confirmation at a laboratory where the surveyor suspects asbestos may exist. Once asbestos is either suspected or confirmed to be present then an assessment of the risks it poses may be made and appropriate action taken. This many include removing it but can equally include encapsulating it to prevent degradation or simply leaving it be and ensuring it is suitably labelled.

The decisions for action taken form part of the management plan for asbestos in that premises. Implementing that plan and making sure that it is effective is the final part of the duty to manage asbestos.

All work with asbestos should be considered as dangerous and guidance from the HSE followed on how to protect yourself and others. However, some work can legally only be undertaken by contractors licenced by the HSE and this includes most asbestos removal work. The HSE provide an accessible list of licenced contractors.

If you are a licenced contractor looking to notify us of upcoming work then please send your completed ASB5 form and licence to the Public Protection team via the above link. Whilst not a requirement of notification, we would also ask that you provide a copy of your proposed method statement for the intended works.

From 6 April 2012 there is a new category of works that may be undertaken by non-licenced individuals/companies that still requires notification to the enforcing authority. Those undertaking such work also have some new additional legal requirements.

Details on what constitutes notifiable non-licenced work and the additional requirements are available from the HSE website.

If you wish to notify us of work under this category use the online notification of non-licensed work with asbestos form from the HSE website.

More information

Further advice and information is available on the Health and Safety Executive website.