Asbestos Advisory Service

The Asbestos Advisory Service is run by HSENI and aims to provide independent information and best practice primarily for the householder seeking guidance on dealing with asbestos in the home.

Asbestos - Questions and answers

Below you will find a list of the most frequently asked questions and answers in regards to asbestos:

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to a group of fibrous minerals which occur naturally in the earth. 

The most common types of asbestos fibre are chrysotile (white asbestos), amosite (brown asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos). The colours are seen in raw clean fibres and may not be visible when the fibres are mixed with other material, appearances can be deceptive.

What are the health effects from asbestos?

Asbestos related diseases are caused by breathing in very fine respirable asbestos fibres. As these fibres accumulate in the lungs, four main types of disease may occur: 


Asbestosis is a scarring of the lung tissue caused by breathing in asbestos fibres over a period of many years. This leads to a progressive loss of elasticity and lung function.  It is a slowly developing disease with a latency period (time between exposure and onset of disease) of 15 to 20 years.


Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lungs (pleura) or more rarely of the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum). Mesothelioma has a long latency period, averaging between 35 to 40 years; however this may vary between 15 and 67 years. The disease is almost always associated with asbestos exposure and can be associated with low exposures unlike other asbestos related diseases.

Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer is a cancer of the lungs. Individuals exposed to asbestos have an increased risk of developing lung cancer which is further increased by smoking. Again the disease has a long latency period of approximately 20 years.

Pleural plaques

A non-malignant disease in which the lining of the lungs (pleura) become scarred. This thickening of the membrane surrounding the lungs can restrict lung expansion leading to breathlessness.

The risk of developing an asbestos disease is related to the duration and level of exposure.

Where can you find asbestos and is it still used?

Asbestos was widely used in buildings, vehicles and domestic and industrial items because of its chemical and physical properties; high tensile strength, flexibility, chemical and heat resistance and good thermal and electrical insulation properties.

Items that may have commonly contained asbestos in the past include:

  • asbestos cement products - used for roofing materials, roof tiles, guttering, flue pipes and soffit boards
  • loose/thermal Insulation – used for packing around electrical cables, acoustic insulation, insulate pipes, boilers and heat exchangers
  • sprayed coatings – used for fireproofing, sound and thermal insulation commonly on the underside of ceilings
  • roofing felts and some flooring adhesives
  • asbestos insulating board - used for fire protection, thermal and acoustic insulation and can be found internally as partitions, wall linings, ceiling and soffit materials
  • PVC flooring and vinyl floor tiles - some products contained asbestos or were backed with asbestos containing paper
  • decorative coatings - (for example Artex) on walls and ceilings
  • friction products – gaskets and brake pads

The use of crocidolite (blue) and amosite (brown) asbestos was banned in 1986, chrysotile (white) asbestos was banned in 1999. The 2000 ban made it illegal to manufacture and supply any asbestos containing materials (ACM) within the UK. It is also illegal to import asbestos containing materials into the UK.

HSE (GB) have produced an interactive diagram which illustrates where asbestos may be found:

The asbestos image gallery also provides real photographs of typical asbestos containing materials that can still be found today:

How can I tell if I have asbestos in my house?

Asbestos products were widely used in building materials, including insulation and fire protection. 

You cannot tell if a product contains asbestos just by looking at it. If you need to work on or around any materials that you think may contain asbestos you should have a sample of the material analysed before you carry out any work.

Taking the sample yourself is not recommended as there is risk of fibre release during the sampling process. You should employ a competent person to take a sample of the material and have it analysed by a UKAS accredited laboratory. A person taking a sample must ensure that the material is dampened (using water with washing-up liquid/detergent) and that they do not create dust or allow the spread of the material. They should wear an FFP3 respirator and type 5/6 coveralls to prevent their clothes from becoming contaminated and from breathing in any released fibres.

They should clean up afterwards using a damp rag, include the rag with the sample and seal the broken edge with paint or other sealant. You should contact chosen laboratory to arrange delivery. There will normally be a charge for this service. You can find details of accredited laboratories on the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) website:

There is a list of Northern Ireland based contractors which are UKAS Accredited for work with asbestos on the HSENI website:

What should I do if I have asbestos in my house? 

This will depend on the type and condition of the asbestos containing material. Asbestos is only a risk to health if the fibres become airborne and are breathed into the lungs. Asbestos containing products that are in good condition do not represent a significant risk unless they are damaged or abraded.

If the ACM is in good condition and unlikely to be disturbed it can be left in place. You should check its condition regularly for signs of deterioration.

If the ACM is in poor condition, or becomes damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, then you will need to have it repaired or removed. Slightly damaged ACMs can sometimes be repaired by sealing or enclosing them. However, you should only attempt to do this if you have had the necessary training. Any badly-damaged asbestos material that is likely to become further damaged should be removed if it cannot be encapsulated or sealed.

The person who does this work should be competent to work with asbestos. Contractors must comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulations (NI) 2012.

If you are planning any DIY home improvements, repairs or maintenance – and intend to bring in any additional builders, maintenance workers or contractors – you should inform them of any asbestos containing materials in your home before they start work. This will help reduce the risks of any ACMs being disturbed. A competent tradesman will ask for this information.

HSENI strongly encourages the use of trained professionals to repair or remove ACMs. Advice on safe working methods can be found at the following link:

If the work involves asbestos insulation, asbestos insulating board or asbestos coatings the contractor must also be licensed under the Control of Asbestos Regulations (NI) 2012. A list of contractors licensed to work with asbestos is available at:

Should I avoid buying a house that contains some asbestos material?

When buying a house, there are many factors you need to consider, including condition, location, price as well as the presence of ACM. There are a number of factors which you should consider:

  • what type of asbestos product is it?
  • where is the asbestos material?
  • what is the extent of the asbestos material? 
  • is it in good repair?
  • is it accessible to the occupants?
  • can it become damaged?
  • can damage be prevented?
  • cost of removal and disposal now or in the future?

Houses built after 2000 should not contain any ACMs.

Asbestos cement is considered a low risk material provided that it remains in good condition. The asbestos fibres are tightly bound in the cement matrix and will not be released unless it becomes badly damaged or broken. Other low risk materials include asbestos containing vinyl floor tiles and textured paint, so long as they are in good condition.

Sprayed asbestos, thermal insulation on pipe work, asbestos ropes and packing, asbestos insulating boards and ceiling tiles all contain a higher percentage of asbestos. The fibres are not as tightly bound in the matrix and there is a higher risk of them becoming airborne, particularly if the material becomes damaged.

HSE (GB) have produced an interactive diagram which illustrates where asbestos may be found:

The asbestos image gallery also provides real photographs of typical asbestos containing materials that can still be found today:

Can I remove asbestos from my home?

If the asbestos containing material (ACM) is in good condition and unlikely to be damaged/disturbed it can be left in place, there is no legal requirement for you to remove it. You should check its condition regularly for signs of deterioration.

If the ACM is damaged or you are planning to carry out DIY and you wish to remove the ACM, then HSENI strongly encourages the use of trained professionals. This is especially the case if the ACM is a higher risk material such as asbestos insulating board (AIB), ceiling tiles or thermal insulation, as these contain a higher percentage of asbestos and release fibres more easily.

Regarding any removal of asbestos containing materials, the right protective equipment must be worn and safe working methods followed, to prevent fibres from becoming airborne and being inhaled. For advice on doing this, please see:

If the asbestos is being removed by a contractor or other person for gain, then they must comply with the Control of Asbestos Regulation (NI) 2012

How do I get rid of asbestos waste?

Asbestos containing materials are classified as ‘Hazardous Waste’ and must not be disposed of with household waste. The material should be double wrapped in labelled polythene sacks or sheeting before they are transported for disposal at a licensed waste disposal site. 

Where asbestos waste is produced by the householder, or by someone acting on behalf of the householder and not for gain, the options are:

  • a) Employ a licensed waste disposal contractor or a licensed asbestos contractor (as long as he is also a licensed carrier) to arrange disposal on your behalf
  • b) Arrange to bring it to a licensed site. You will need to contact the site in advance to find out what conditions they require. A private householder does not require a carrier’s license or a consignment note

Where asbestos waste is produced by a contractor (plumber, joiner, builder or other acting for gain). The contractor is responsible for disposing of the waste. If they are taking the waste themselves then they must hold a carrier’s license (issued by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency) and a consignment note relating to the particular load being disposed of. The material can only be taken to one of the locations licensed to accept it. Alternatively, the contractor can employ another contractor who is licensed to carry and dispose of such waste.

A list of registered waste carriers can be found at:

A list of sites licensed to accept asbestos waste can be found below. (Note: The information below was correct at the time of writing. The current status of sites can be checked with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency):

How do I find out about licensed contractors?

When employing a tradesperson to remove or work on an asbestos containing material, it is important they know how to carry out the work safely to prevent releasing and spreading fibres.

Certain materials such as asbestos insulation, asbestos insulating board and asbestos sprayed coatings are higher risk due to how easily the fibres can be released. A tradesperson employed to work on these materials must be licensed under the Control of Asbestos Regulations (NI) 2012.

A list of contractors licensed to work with asbestos is available at:

Can I reuse asbestos?

The Control of Asbestos Regulations (NI) 2012 prohibits the supply of asbestos products.

Supply is defined as the sale, lease, hire, hire-purchase, loan, gift or an exchange for a consideration other than money.

This means that all forms of asbestos and products that have had asbestos added to them during manufacture, cannot be supplied for re-use.

Where asbestos materials were in place before 2 May 2000 they can remain provided they are in good condition and properly managed.

Removed asbestos materials e.g. asbestos cement sheets in good condition cannot be reused but must be treated as asbestos containing waste.

What regulations that cover working with asbestos?

The Control of Asbestos Regulations (NI) 2012 apply to all work activity involving asbestos. The regulations are supported by an ‘Approved Code of Practice’ (ACOP) and can be found at the following link:

The Approved Code of Practice gives practical advice on how to comply with the Regulations. If you follow the advice, you will be doing enough to comply with the Regulations.

I think I have been exposed to asbestos. What should I do?

Research suggests that single or low level exposures are very unlikely to lead to disease and the risks with such an exposure are considered “insignificant”. Diseases associated with asbestos exposure occur through breathing in very fine asbestos fibres. The chance of developing an asbestos-related disease is related to the amount of fibre inhaled and the duration of exposure. If you think you may have been exposed, you may wish to discuss your concerns with your doctor. At this stage a full medical examination or x-ray would not be beneficial since it takes many years for the effects of asbestos to appear.

If you have been accidentally exposed to asbestos in your place of work, as a result of asbestos becoming airborne, your employers must investigate the incident. Exposure to asbestos is reportable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) to HSENI 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 you undertake licensable asbestos work then your employer must hold an asbestos removal licence and is required to ensure that you are trained and under adequate medical surveillance by an Appointed Doctor.

The building I work in contains asbestos – what is the risk and what should my employer be doing?

The presence of asbestos alone should not be a cause for concern. Asbestos only becomes a health risk when it is released into the air and breathed in.

Duty holders – those who are responsible for maintaining or repairing non-domestic premises – are required by the Control of Asbestos Regulations (NI) 2012 to actively manage any asbestos in buildings. This includes identifying, monitoring and properly planning any work that may disturb asbestos containing materials.

An asbestos survey should be carried out in the premises in order for the duty holder to identify whether there are any asbestos containing materials. The results of the survey should be entered into an asbestos register, a document which identifies all asbestos containing materials (ACMs) in the premises and their condition. The register should be made available to all tradespeople that carry out work on the premises. A formal document plan (asbestos management plan) should also be in place describing how the duty holder will manage the ACMs within the premises.

Where ACMs are assessed as being in good condition and not in a position where they are likely to be damaged they should be left in place and monitored.

However, where asbestos is in poor condition or is likely to be disturbed/damaged during the normal use of the building (including any maintenance activities), it should be labelled, sealed, enclosed or removed, as appropriate.

Those considered most at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres are tradesmen and maintenance workers who disturb the fabric of buildings during the course of their work. Precautions must be taken to ensure that tradespeople don't put themselves or others at risk by disturbing asbestos.

What is an asbestos survey?

An asbestos survey is usually carried out to enable the duty holder to compile the asbestos register.  There are two main types of survey;

Management surveys

Management surveys, which are designed to get information on the location, extent, type and condition of any asbestos containing material (ACM). This information is used to make an assessment of any risk and to prepare an asbestos management plan. 

Refurbishment and demolition surveys

Refurbishment and demolition surveys, which are required so that all ACMs can be identified and located, as far as reasonably practicable and removed from a building. This must occur before any demolition, refurbishment or other work that affects the fabric of the building is carried out.

What is an asbestos register?

All buildings which are non-domestic must have an asbestos register which shows where any asbestos containing material (ACM) is present. This information must be readily available and given to anyone who is liable to disturb the ACM. 

Anyone undertaking work where they suspect that there is a possibility that they may disturb an ACM can ask to see the register. If they are still suspicious, they can ask for further information.

This requirement applies to all buildings which are non-domestic; this includes the common areas in blocks of flats.

Do I have to have training to work with asbestos?

Yes. Regardless of the type of asbestos or the asbestos containing material, you still need to be trained in how to handle it safely in order to prevent fibres from becoming airborne and exposing yourself and others. Regulation 10 of The Control of Asbestos (NI) 2012 Regulations covers the need for training. The following web page provides more detail on the need for training:

Even though work with lower risk asbestos materials, such as asbestos cement, is normally non-licensable, you must still know how to carry out the work safely and this means that there must be appropriate training.

HSE have a series of task sheets describing ‘good practice’ for non-licensed tasks that cover the actions needed to help minimise exposure:

When carrying out work that is higher risk, i.e. licensable, then much more in-depth training is required. The following HSE document provides more information: