How do I know if there’s asbestos in my office/workplace?

13th March 2017

Is there asbestos in my officeAsbestos may be a banned material here in the UK and in 54 other countries around the world, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a potential threat to people’s health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that worldwide 125 million people are exposed to asbestos at the workplace, while the Health and Safety Executive says around 5,000 workers die in the UK each year due to asbestos-related diseases.

Those are scary figures, so it’s understandable to be worried about what’s lurking in your workplace. If you want to know if there’s asbestos in your workplace, this guide will help.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos isn’t a threat unless it is disturbed, as it’s the fibres which are responsible for causing asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. Once the fibres are airborne, they can be breathed into your lungs – they won’t cause damage straight away. Most people do not develop asbestos-related diseases until much later in life and, unfortunately, there is no cure at present.

Is my building safe from asbestos?

It’s easy to assume that you’re safe from the threat from asbestos if you work in a newer office building, but this isn’t always the case. The use of asbestos was not banned outright until 1999, so the truth is only buildings constructed from the year 2000 onwards are guaranteed to be free from asbestos.
In most cases, it’s impossible to know if there’s asbestos in your workplace unless a survey has been carried out. However, because it is not a threat unless disturbed, the presence of asbestos should only be a concern if building or major renovation work is taking place.

How do I find out if asbestos is present?

By law, your workplace will have a duty holder: someone who is responsible for the maintenance of the building in which you work. If the office or building is leased, this is typically the landlord, but it depends on the conditions of tenancy agreement. The duty holder is responsible for managing any asbestos present and must also provide information necessary to anyone who is likely to disturb any ACMs.

Where is asbestos most likely to be found?

Asbestos was once a popular fire proofing and insulation solution, so it’s still found in a variety of materials, from vinyl and thermoplastic floor tiles, to bitumen roofing material. Some ACMs are more fragile than others, and so are more likely to pose a risk. The amount of asbestos used within such materials will also vary.

Here are the locations in which ACMs are most likely to be found at work:

  • Insulation pipes and boilers
  • Ducts, partitions and insulting boards
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Millboard and paper used to insulate electrical equipment
  • Roofing, wall cladding, water tanks and rainwater pipes

In most cases, there’s no need to be concerned about asbestos in your workplace, as you are unlikely to exposed to it. However, if you are worried that your building’s duty holder is not carrying out their responsibility to manage asbestos properly, you can get in touch with your local authority.