Asbestos provides good insulation and building strength, which is why it has historically been used extensively in construction. However, its fibres are so small they can penetrate deep into the lungs. Asbestos is classified as a Category 1 carcinogen and its associated diseases are often incurable and fatal.

While all forms of asbestos were banned in the UK in 1999 — and in the EU in 2005 — it is still traded in parts of the world and millions of tons of asbestos remain in buildings constructed before 2000. As long as the asbestos fibres are bonded, they are not a health risk. However, if disturbed, materials containing asbestos could release large concentrations of fibres into the air, presenting a significant hazard to those exposed to them.

When buildings contain asbestos, employers are required to identify the location of asbestos and apply defined control measures to prevent fibres becoming a risk to health. See your Asbestos topic for more information.

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