Types of Asbestos

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a term used for a number of naturally occurring minerals which have crystallised to form long thin fibres and fibre bundles.

Asbestos was extensively used as a building material in the UK from the 1950s through to the mid-1980s. It was used for a variety of purposes and was ideal for fireproofing and insulation. Because asbestos is often mixed with another material, it is hard to know if you are working with an asbestos material or not. However if you are working in a building built before the year 2000, it is likely that some parts of the building will contain asbestos.

The three main types of asbestos that have been used commercially are:

  • Crocidolite (blue)
  • Amosite (brown)
  • Chrysotile (white

The type of asbestos cannot be identified just by its colour.

Asbestos has been used in a very large number of products, many of which have been used in buildings. Some products have one type of asbestos in them while others have mixtures of two or more. All types of asbestos can be dangerous.


Why is Asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos is made up of thin fibres. These can break down into much smaller and thinner fibres. The smallest fibres cannot be seen with the naked eye but they can be breathed in. Asbestos fibres are only dangerous if they are made airborne and breathed in, but ALL types of asbestos fibres are potentially fatal if breathed in.

The fibres that are breathed in can become stuck in the lungs and damage them. This can cause scars that stop the lungs working properly (asbestosis), or it can cause cancer. The main types of cancer caused by asbestos are cancer of the lung and cancer of the lining of the lung (mesothelioma). These diseases can take from 10 to 60 years to develop and there is no cure for any of them.


You are most likely to find it in buildings built or refurbished before 2000. Many thousands of tonnes of asbestos products were used in buildings. Much of it is still there and you cannot easily identify these products from their appearance. The most common uses of asbestos in buildings were:

  • loose packing between floors and in partition walls;
  • sprayed (‘limpet’) fire insulation on structural beams and girders;
  • lagging, e.g. on pipework, boilers, calorifiers, heat exchangers, insulating   jackets for cold water tanks, around ducts;
  • asbestos insulation board (AIB), e.g. ceiling tiles, partition walls, soffits, service duct covers, fire breaks, heater cupboards, door panels, lift shaft linings, fire surrounds;
  • asbestos cement (AC), e.g. roof sheeting, wall cladding, walls and ceilings, bath panels, boiler and incinerator flues, fire surrounds, gutters, rainwater pipes, water tanks;
  • other products, e.g. floor tiles, mastics, sealants, textured decorative
  • coatings (such as artex), rope seals, gaskets (e.g. pipework), millboards, paper products, fire doors, cloth (e.g. fire blankets), bituminous products (roofing felt).
  • Convection heaters and associated cabinets may contain asbestos materials as listed above.

These are only a few examples of asbestos containing materials (“A.C.M’s”) that could be present in your building which require identification, sampling if necessary and recording on your asbestos register.

Remember – how dangerous the asbestos is depends on the type of asbestos and the type of material it is in, the condition of the material, and how likely the material is to be disturbed.

Click here for more information regarding the location of asbestos containing materials


 Who is likely to be exposed to asbestos fibres?

Anyone who disturbs asbestos-containing materials, for example, by working on them or near them. Research has suggested that the groups most at risk are those who carry out building maintenance and refurbishment work, for example (this is not a complete list, nor in any particular order):

  • Demolition Contractors
  • Electricians
  • Roofing Contractors
  • Painters and Decorators
  • Construction Contractors
  • Joiners
  • Heating and Ventilation Engineers
  • Plumbers
  • Telecommunications Engineers
  • Gas Fitters
  • Fire and Burglar Alarm Installers
  • Plasterers
  • General Maintenance Staff
  • Builders
  • Computer Installers
  • Shop Fitters
  • Building Surveyors

Asbestos awareness training should be given to these employees whose work could potentially disturb the fabric of a building and expose them to asbestos or who supervise or influence the work.

In particular, it should be given to those workers in the refurbishment, maintenance and allied trades where it is foreseeable that ACMs may become exposed during their work. This includes, the trades as listed above