How to recognise asbestos

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Do you know how to recognise asbestos?

We all know about the dangers of asbestos and the health risks associated with it, but would you know how to recognise asbestos if it was in your home?

It can be difficult to know whether a product contains asbestos or not as asbestos fibers can’t be seen by the naked eye alone.

So to be able to identify asbestos, you first need to have an idea what you are looking for when it comes to materials around the home where it could be lurking.

Another words, you need to be able to recognise products that may contain asbestos.

So here are our top tips on what to look out for, which will hopefully give you a better overall understanding on how to recognise asbestos.

Please note, before you check for any potential asbestos material(s) in your home using the methods below, for health & safety reasons, if you are going to be handling the material in any way then please ensure you are wearing suitable PPE and RPE as described further on in the article.

Even being exposed to small quantities of asbestos fibers can lead to an asbestos related illness in years to come, so don’t take any risks.

Check for a date on the suspect asbestos material

Older properties built before the asbestos ban in 1999 are more likely to contain asbestos materials.

One thing you can do is to check to see if the manufacturer and product name or date of manufacture are on a label on the material, and then do a quick google search.

If there is no label on the product, then the age of the building itself is usually a good indicator on whether it’s asbestos or not.

Check joints on buildings for asbestos

This applies mainly to outbuildings like sheds and garages.

Asbestos sheets were often joined together on the outside with aluminum runners, which were held on by small nails.

On the inside, the asbestos sheets were held together with plastic or wooden runners in the same way.

If the building is structured in this way, then it could be an indication that it contains asbestos.

Adhesives that were used to join materials together could also contain asbestos, so it would be wise to check those too.

Inspect the surface pattern

One of the easiest ways you can recognise asbestos is by looking at a material’s surface pattern.

Most asbestos materials will have a swirl or dimpled pattern on the surface, whereas newer materials that don’t contain asbestos will have a smoother surface texture.

You can’t rely on this visual method alone, but a patterned surface should be treated with caution.

how to recognise asbestos - textured coated ceiling
Textured coated ceiling (artex)

Inspect external building materials for asbestos

As asbestos was used extensively in roofing and cement products, it’s a good idea to check these materials.

Cement board is a very common thin in appearance asbestos material, and was used as corrugated roofing, siding and soffit material.

It was used to help insulate buildings.

Check interior walls, floors and ceilings

Again, it is very common to find asbestos in flooring, walls and ceilings as these materials were very often made with asbestos because of it’s excellent fireproofing and insulation properties.

Asphalt floors and vinyl floor tiles, as well as textured decorative coatings (artex) on walls and ceilings were used a lot in the construction of buildings in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s inparticular, so these are all worth checking.

Asbestos was also used in ceiling tiles, which looks off white or grey in colour.

how to recognise asbestos - floor tiles
Asbestos floor tiles

Check finishings and appliances for asbestos

Asbestos wasn’t just used in common building materials.

It was also used in a number of other products that can be found around the home or in a building.

To help you recognise asbestos, here are some examples of some common products that may contain asbestos:-

Check the location of the suspect asbestos material

Asbestos is not susceptible to water like a lot of other building materials are.

This means it was a popular choice for use in places that were likely to be exposed to damp conditions, like bathrooms and basements.

Other ways to recognise asbestos

As well as identifying possible asbestos materials as outlined above, there are other methods you should know about which will assist you in learning how to recognise asbestos.

Another method is to look for identification markers, one of which is to identify the mold.

What do we mean by identifying the mold?

Well, asbestos was ‘molded’ into lots of different shapes and sizes in order to fill different needs.

So for example, asbestos was molded into sheets and used to make up walls, and it was also moulded into slates of asbestos which were used to create roof tiles.

Each of these molds will have a different location that may be stamped or printed with the manufacturer’s information.

This can help to identify if the product contains asbestos or not.

Look for letter codes such as AC (contains asbestos) or NT (does not contain asbestos).

The best method to identify asbestos

Now that you have more insight on how to recognise asbestos in common building materials, there is of course only one true way of knowing for sure if a product actually contains asbestos, and that is to have it tested.

We would strongly advise that an Asbestos Surveyor takes any samples for testing, but there is no law to say you can’t do it yourself if it’s a residential property (commercial or public properties will definitely need a professional to take any samples under the ‘Duty to Manage’ regulations).

So If you do decide to take any samples yourself from your own home, you must ensure you are wearing protective clothing ie a disposable coverall, disposable gloves and a suitable respiratory disposable face mask in order to protect yourself from any potential asbestos exposure throughout the procedure.

Please note that before taking any samples, please assess the condition of the material to be sampled – If the material is damaged to a degree where excessive fiber release may occur, please contact a professional Asbestos Consultant.

To take a sample, cut a small square out of the suspect material (about 1 – 1½ inches), ensuring that you cut right through the depth of it.

If it’s plaster, ie a wall or ceiling, then you must thoroughly dampen the area you wish to take the sample from first.

Whilst still wearing your protective clothing, any samples taken must be put into a clear plastic self seal/ziplock bag, and then put into a 2nd clear bag before clearly labeling with the date and what room the sample is from.

It may be necessary to take more than one sample, and each individual sample will need to go into different bags, using the same double bagging method described above.

How to recognise asbestos - use asbestos sacks for any waste
Red and Clear Asbestos Waste Sacks

Then any samples collected must be sent on to an asbestos testing laboratory to be tested, with details of the property enclosed and any other information the laboratory may ask for.

After you’ve taken all samples, any disposable clothing must be double bagged in asbestos sacks (there will usually be a red and a clear coloured sack and can be purchased online) and taken to your local asbestos waste disposal facility (contact your local council for details).

We hope this information has helped you and has given you a better understanding on how to recognise asbestos in your home or workplace.

If you need any help with asbestos sampling, testing or surveys, then contact us at Armco Asbestos Surveys on 0161 763 3727 or email info@armco.org.uk


Did you find this article interesting?  Then check out our other interesting articles below.

For all your asbestos training needs call us on 0161 761 4424 or visit https://www.armcoasbestostraining.co.uk/ to book an asbestos training course.

Need an asbestos management survey or a refurbishment/demolition survey? Then contact us on 0161 763 3727 or by visiting our sister site https://www.armco.org.uk/

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Published Jun 24, 2019
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