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Gas Engineer’s Guide to Asbestos

Do you know what asbestos looks like and where you might find it? What should you do if you come across asbestos at work? Stay safe and find out more in our Gas Engineer’s Guide to Asbestos.

What is it?
Asbestos was used in many new and refurbished commercial and domestic buildings before its use was banned in 1999. A large number of premises and older plant and equipment still contain some asbestos, and much is hidden in the fabric of the building and not immediately obvious. Gas engineers and plumbers may well come across it, especially if they are working in older properties.

What are its risks?
When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled, they can cause serious diseases. These diseases will not affect you immediately; they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything. This is why it is important that you protect yourself now.

Asbestos can cause the following fatal and serious diseases: mesothelioma; asbestos-related lung cancer; asbestosis, and pleural thickening.

Note: People who smoke and who are exposed to asbestos fibres are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer.

Where could I find it?
In and around the home, you might find asbestos cement on a water tank, lagging pipes, sprayed around a boiler or water tank, in a toilet seat and cistern, in a bath panel, behind a fire, and behind a fuse box. You could also come across it in loose-fill insulation, in a textured decorative coating such as Artex, in ceiling tiles, an airing cupboard, partition wall, window panel, or vinyl floor tiles.

Note: More information on where asbestos can be found at:

What does asbestos look like?

It can be difficult to identify asbestos, as it is often mixed with other materials. The HSE’s asbestos image gallery shows a number of common materials that contain asbestos: here are just a few examples of them.

Before you start
On any building that might contain asbestos, you must identify whether it is present and determine its type and condition. Where the building is non-domestic, those with a duty to manage asbestos must tell you where any asbestos is in the building and what condition it is in. If there is little or no information, but you suspect asbestos is present, you should have the area surveyed and samples of the material you are going to work on should be analysed. Alternatively, you can assume that any material you need to disturb does contain asbestos and take the appropriate precautions for the highest-risk situation.

Carry out a risk assessment
Decide if it’s possible to carry out your work avoiding the risk of asbestos exposure all together. If it’s not possible, identify who might be at risk and the level of possible asbestos exposure from any work. On this basis, decide what work methods are necessary to provide effective control of the risks.

What if I find asbestos?
Stop work immediately. Put up a warning sign and ensure nobody enters the area. You should only carry out work on asbestos if you have had the appropriate information, instruction and training.


  • You can’t see or smell asbestos fibres in the air
  • The effects of being exposed to asbestos take many years to show up – avoid breathing it in now
  • Smokers who are exposed to asbestos fibres are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer
  • Asbestos is only a danger when fibres are made airborne and breathed in
  • As long as the asbestos is in good condition and it is located somewhere where it can’t be damaged easily, then it shouldn’t be a risk to you.

What do I do if I disturb asbestos?
If you accidentally disturb and release asbestos, it must be dealt with quickly and appropriately.

The clean-up of lower-risk asbestos materials where the fibres are firmly bound in a matrix but are essentially in good condition (ie, mostly intact), such as asbestos cement, bitumen products, papers, textiles, smallscale release of asbestos insulating board, etc, will generally not require a licensed contractor.

You should take steps to:

  • Warn anybody who may be affected
  • Exclude from the area anyone not needed to deal with the release
  • Identify the cause of the uncontrolled release
  • Regain adequate control as soon as possible
  • Make sure anyone in the work area affected who is not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), including respiratory protective equipment (RPE), leaves the affected area immediately
  • Minimise the spread of asbestos by ensuring they are suitably decontaminated
  • Clean up dust and debris (see Asbestos Essentials method sheet em7)
  • Decontaminate anyone who is contaminated with dust and debris;
  • Ensure rags, clothing and PPE are decontaminated or disposed of as contaminated waste.

There is lots more information, photos and the HSE’s reference cards – which provide at-a-glance guidance on recognising and dealing with asbestos – at


Download this guide at: GasEngineersGuideToAsbestos.pdf

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