Are you asbestos aware?

British Lung Foundation: Be Asbestos Aware
British Lung Foundation: Be Asbestos Aware

Nearly half of the UK’s handy homeowners do not realise that asbestos was used as a domestic building material as recently as the 1990s, according to research from the British Lung Foundation (BLF).

As a result the charity is urging anyone who does it themself to be asbestos aware after its canvass of 2,000 homeowners revealed that 65 per cent did not feel confident identifying materials that might contain the potentially cancer-causing substance.

It says that, typically, asbestos is found in materials such as floor tiles, toilet cisterns, textured ceiling coatings and the linings of boiler cupboards. It was also once a popular choice for the rooves of garages and outbuildings.

Check before you start

Craig Phillips promotes asbestos awareness (
Craig Phillips promotes asbestos awareness (

The survey also found that less than a third of homeowners would check for asbestos-containing materials before starting a DIY project. Three-quarters said they had never received any information on how to identify and manage the substance. And one in ten said if they did come across asbestos in their homes they would try to dispose of it themselves.

According to the BLF nearly 14 million homes were built when asbestos materials were being used in construction. As a result, it is working to raise awareness of how to identify it, and to carry out DIY safely when working around asbestos.

It says this knowledge could help prevent mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer that manifests between 15 and 50 years after exposure.

The BLF describes mesothelioma as “a cruel disease which kills one person every five hours in the UK.” In order to promote asbestos safety it has teamed up with DIY expert and TV presenter Craig Phillips, the winner of the first-ever series of TV hit Big Brother, to get its safety message across.

Craig says: “Be asbestos aware”

Craig, who has worked in the construction industry for 20 years and who has appeared on more than 850 construction and DIY TV programmes in the past decade, knows only too well the effects that asbestos can cause.

He said: “This campaign is particularly close to my heart as my uncle has been affected by asbestos exposure so I know exactly how dangerous asbestos can be. I want to encourage keen DIY-ers to be more vigilant in their homes when making improvements and follow the BLF’s Be Asbestos Aware top tips.”

Watch his message here:

Dame Helena Shovelton, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, added: “Annually we hold our Action Mesothelioma Day campaign to raise awareness about this very cruel disease that kills one person every five hours in the UK. Yet despite such a devastating illness, the general public knows very little about mesothelioma, the lung cancer caused by asbestos.

“Our survey has highlighted that nearly half of all homeowners do not know that asbestos was actually used as a building material and could be in their homes today. In light of this there’s definitely more work that needs to be done to ensure people are asbestos aware.”

What should you do?

The key things to remember when dealing with asbestos in the home is that it is safest when left undisturbed and that disposal should always be undertaken by a specialist. Get information on asbestos removal from DirectGov here.

The BLF has issued the following 10 tips for dealing with asbestos in the home (download them from its website here in PDF format):

  1. Asbestos-containing materials in good condition are not a health risk and should be left alone.
  2. Never sand, drill or saw objects which may contain asbestos such as textured ceiling coatings, floor tiles or asbestos cement roofs
  3. Common places where asbestos could be found include floor tiles, toilet cisterns, textured ceiling coatings, asbestos cement roofs, soffit boards and linings of boiler cupboards
  4. Always seek professional advice from your local authority or an accredited asbestos removal company before thinking of removing asbestos materials
  5. Always make sure you have the correct personal protection equipment including:
    – Properly fitted mask to the standards EN149 (type FFP3) or EN1827 (type FMP3)
    – Overalls and boot covers – most home improvement stores will stock these
    – If you are doing DIY in your own clothes, remove them carefully to avoid excess dust and wash straight away, separately from other clothing, in a washing machine. Make sure you use a mask whilst dealing with them

  6. If you are working with asbestos materials always dampen down the surface to avoid producing dust
  7. Don’t smoke, eat or drink in the work area
  8. If you disturb asbestos do not use a domestic vacuum cleaner as dust may pass through the filter – hire a special (Class H) industrial vacuum cleaner that complies with British Standards – Look up ‘asbestos safety equipment hire’ on the internet for where to find one
  9. Do not put asbestos waste in the dustbin – seek advice from the council about how to safely dispose of it
  10. For more information go to the British Lung Foundation website or call the its telephone helpline on 08458 50 50 20.