Asbestos FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions


The duty to manage asbestos is a legal requirement under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 (Regulation 4). It applies to the owners and occupiers of commercial premises (such as shops, offices, industrial units etc) who have responsibility for maintenance and repair activities. In addition to these responsibilities, they also have a duty to assess the presence and condition of any asbestos-containing materials. If asbestos is present, or is presumed to be present, then it must be managed appropriately. The duty also applies to the shared parts of some domestic premises.

An asbestos survey is an effective way to help you manage asbestos in your premises by providing accurate information about the location, amount and type of any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). While not a legal requirement, it is recommended that you arrange a survey if you suspect there are ACMs in your premises. Alternatively, you may choose to presume there is asbestos in your premises and would then need to take all appropriate precautions for any work that takes place. However, it is good practice to have an asbestos survey carried out so you can be absolutely sure whether asbestos is present or not.

The asbestos survey can help to provide enough information so that an asbestos register, a risk assessment and a management plan can then be prepared. The survey will usually involve sampling and analysis to determine the presence of asbestos – so asbestos surveys should only be carried out by competent surveyors who can clearly demonstrate they have the necessary skills, experience and qualifications.

An asbestos survey will identify:

  • The location of any asbestos-containing materials in the building
  • The type of asbestos they contain
  • The condition these materials are in
Following a survey, the surveyor should produce a survey report which details the findings. This information can help you prepare an asbestos risk register.

The asbestos risk register is a key component of the required plan on how you will manage any asbestos found, or presumed to be, in your buildings. This management plan must contain current information about the presence and condition of any asbestos in the building. The asbestos risk register will therefore need to be updated on a regular basis (at least once a year). To do this you should make:

  • Regular inspections to check the current condition of asbestos materials
  • Deletions to the register when any asbestos is removed
  • Additions to the register when new areas are surveyed and asbestos is located
  • Changes to the register (at any time asbestos-containing materials are found to have deteriorated)
The risk register can be kept as a paper or electronic record and it is very important that this is kept up to date and easily accessible. Paper copies may be easier to pass on to visiting maintenance workers, who will need them to know the location and condition of any asbestos before they start work. Electronic copies are easier to update and are probably better suited for people responsible for large numbers of properties or bigger premises.

For guidance on surveying buildings for asbestos, see: Managing my asbestos: Inspect your building and Asbestos: The survey guide.

The control limit refers to the concentration of asbestos fibres in any localised atmosphere, measured and averaged over a continuous period of four hours, in accordance with the 1997 World Health Organisation's recommended method. At the moment, the control limit is 0.1 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.1 f/cm3). The control limit is not a 'safe' level and work activities involving asbestos should be designed to be as far below the control limit as possible. HSE has progressively tightened the control limit since 1987.

Work involving some lower risk asbestos-containing materials (eg asbestos cement products and textured decorative coatings, among others) can be carried out if a risk assessment demonstrates that the control limit will not be exceeded and that any exposure to asbestos is expected to be 'sporadic and of low intensity'. The control limit for this type of non-licensed work is 0.6 asbestos fibres per cubic centimetre of air (0.6 f/cm3), measured over a ten-minute period. Any work which is likely to result in exposures at or above this level cannot be considered to be sporadic and of low intensity and should therefore only be carried out by a licensed contractor.

Working with particular asbestos-containing materials can only be carried out by somebody who holds a licence issued by HSE. Licences are granted for a limited period of time (usually one or three years), enabling HSE to review licences and the performance of licence holders at regular intervals. For more information, see: Asbestos licensing.

For those doing licensed work, the current Regulations require that employers must keep a health record for employees and they must also be kept under regular medical surveillance. The health record must be kept for 40 years after the date of the last entry in it. If an employee has been exposed to asbestos, the health record must note the following:

  • The date, time and how long the exposure to asbestos was for
  • The type of asbestos (if known)
  • The levels of asbestos exposed to (if known)

The removal of higher risk asbestos-containing materials (sprayed asbestos coatings, asbestos insulation, asbestos lagging and most work involving asbestos insulating board (AIB) should only be carried out by a licensed contractor.

Licensed asbestos removal work is a significantly hazardous job because it involves higher risk asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). These materials are more likely to release larger quantities of asbestos fibres when being removed than lower risk materials (such as asbestos cement). As a result, workers who are employed in removing higher risk ACMs require specific training and should follow specific working practices. Workers should also use sophisticated respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and are legally required to be under regular medical surveillance. It is because of the hazardous nature of this work that a licence to do it is required from HSE. You can find further information on the HSE licensing process on the Asbestos licensing page.

There are some asbestos removal tasks, involving lower risk asbestos-containing materials that do not require a licence. This is because any exposure to asbestos fibres from this type of work is not expected to present a significant risk, provided that the correct precautions are taken. However, under the asbestos regulations that came into force in April 2012, there are now two categories of 'non-licensed' work, one of which, 'notifiable non-licensed work (NNLW)', has additional requirements for employers. For more information on what work is classified as NNLW click here. HSE has produced a series of task sheets on the appropriate controls for non-licensed work.

The current Regulations place a legal duty on employers to provide information, instruction and training to any of their employees who are likely to be exposed to asbestos as part of their work.

The three main types of information, instruction and training are:

  • Asbestos awareness training
  • Training for non-licensed asbestos work – ie the type of work described in HSE's Asbestos essentials
  • Training for licensed asbestos work
Further information about asbestos training can be found here.

People who believe they may have been exposed to asbestos are understandably anxious and concerned about the possible effects on their health. Many cases of inadvertent, short-term exposure to asbestos will most likely have led to minimal exposure to fibres, with little likelihood of any long-term ill health effects.

Although the type of asbestos involved and duration of exposure may be known, there may be little reliable information about the level of exposure. These are all important factors in determining the level of risk - the more fibres that are released by an asbestos-containing material, and the longer the work activity lasts, the greater the cumulative exposure to asbestos fibres and, therefore, an increased risk of ill health effects.

Some work activities are more likely to create a significant concentration of asbestos fibres in the air, and therefore, add to the risk if suitable precautions are not in place; for example:

  • Use of power tools (to drill, cut etc) on most ACMs;
  • Work that leads to physical disturbance (knocking, breaking, smashing) of an ACM that should only be handled by a licensed contractor e.g. sprayed coating, lagging, asbestos insulating board (AIB);
  • Manually cutting or drilling AIB;
  • Work involving aggressive physical disturbance of asbestos cement e.g. breaking or smashing.

Some asbestos-containing materials release fibres more easily than others. For detailed information on types of asbestos-containing material and the likelihood of fibre release, see: Appendix 2 (page 53) of Asbestos: The survey guide.

If you are concerned about possible exposure to asbestos from work activities, you are advised to consult your GP and ask for a note to be made in your personal record about possible exposure, including date(s), duration, type of asbestos and likely exposure levels (if known). In some circumstances, your GP may refer you to a specialist in respiratory medicine. HSE does not advocate routine X-rays for people who have had an inadvertent exposure to asbestos. Asbestos-related damage to the lungs takes years to develop and become visible on chest X-rays. X-ray examinations cannot indicate whether or not asbestos fibres have been inhaled.

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) places duties on employers, the self-employed and people in control of work premises (the responsible person) to report certain serious workplace accidents, occupational diseases and specified dangerous occurrences (near misses).

Exposure to asbestos is reportable under RIDDOR when a work activity causes the accidental release or escape of asbestos fibres into the air in a quantity sufficient to cause damage to the health of any person. Such situations are likely to arise when work is carried out without suitable controls, or where those controls fail – they often involve:

  • Use of power tools (to drill, cut etc) on most ACMs;
  • Work that leads to physical disturbance (knocking, breaking, smashing) of an ACM that should only be handled by a licensed contractor e.g. sprayed coating, lagging, asbestos insulating board (AIB);
  • Manually cutting or drilling AIB;
  • Work involving aggressive physical disturbance of asbestos cement e.g. breaking or smashing.

If these activities are carried out without suitable controls, or the precautions fail to control exposure, these would be classed as a 'dangerous occurrence' under RIDDOR and should be reported.

Remember, if you need to report a dangerous occurrence relating to asbestos, you should review your asbestos management plan or your working practices. Further advice on managing and working with asbestos.