What is asbestos?

Asbestos is made up of naturally occurring minerals that have crystallized to form long thin fibres and bundles. There are two groups of asbestos: Serpentine - Chrysotile (White asbestos) and Amphibole - Crocidolite (Blue asbestos) and Amosite (Brown asbestos)

This is a picture of Chrysotile fibres taken with an electron microscope, magnification x 6600.

This is a picture of Chrysotile fibres taken with an electron microscope, magnification x 6600.

Why is asbestos a problem?

Asbestos is only a problem if the asbestos fibres become airborne and are inhaled.

Inhalation of asbestos fibres can lead to Mesothelioma, Asbestosis, Lung Cancer or Diffuse Pleural thickening. Diseases occurring now result from exposure to asbestos fibres by workers working with or near asbestos products in the 1950/60s.

The time between exposure and the onset of disease can be between 15 and 60 years.

Potential exposure now is to workers in buildings where asbestos is both present and disturbed.

All exposure to asbestos should be avoided. The risk of developing an asbestos related disease depends on how much asbestos you are exposed to, for how long and on how many different occasions. The more you are exposed the greater the risk.

The people who are most at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres work in the building and maintenance trades e.g. plumbers and gas fitters, carpenters and electricians.

Where is asbestos found in buildings?

Likely locations are:

  • Roofs and exterior walls
  • Heating systems
  • Ceilings
  • Interior walls and panels
  • Flooring materials
  • Air handling systems

How is exposure to asbestos controlled?

Legislation controlling asbestos has been around since the 1980's both to progressively prohibit the use and manufacture of asbestos materials and also to control how asbestos is managed in workplaces. The most recent legislation is the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2012.

These regulations mean that the University must:

  • Determine the location and assess the condition of material that are likely to contain asbestos
  • Must presume the material contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not
  • Make and keep an up to date record of the location and condition of the asbestos containing materials (ACM) or presumed ACM in the premises
  • Assess the risk of the likelihood of anyone being exposed to fibres from these material
  • Take the necessary steps to put the plan into action
  • Review and monitor the plan periodically
  • Provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is likely to work on or disturb them

An up to date register of asbestos containing materials is kept in Property Management (Estates and Campus Services) and at the Security Office in the Cottrell building.

Further information can be found by visiting the HSE's web site on asbestos. There are also free HSE leaflets on asbestos.