Steps to take if you think your roof contains asbestos
In the 1900s asbestos emerged as an essential mineral for construction, manufacture, and processing industries. However, with the introduction of regulations because of associated health risks from asbestos fibres, its use was phased out in the UK in 1985. However, this ban did not address asbestos already present in existing roofs. As such, we discuss asbestos and asbestos roof removal.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a silicate-based mineral characterised by long, thin fibrous crystals, commonly referred to as asbestos fibres. Asbestos is a hazardous material that exists in six types, split into two groups: (1) serpentine asbestos (chrysotile) and (2) amphibole asbestos (amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite . Of these, the most common type used in roofing materials was chrysotile, which was banned in 1999. Tremolite, serpentine and anthophyllite were also used.
Uses of asbestos
An excellent insulator, asbestos material has been used in pitched and flat roofing materials, fire blankets, building insulation (walls, roofing felt and asbestos cement roof sheets and gutters, ceiling voids, etc.), pipe insulation, flooring and many other products related to construction .
How harmful is asbestos?
All six asbestos types are known to cause serious health hazards in humans. Asbestos exposure via anisotropic and crocidolite from the amphibole group are the most hazardous, with chrysotile having been used in the majority of products. Diseases linked to asbestos exposure include mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer, among others. Smokers have a higher propensity to asbestos-related diseases, presumably due to the combined carcinogenic effect of cigarette smoke .
The Hollywood actor Steve McQueen developed mesothelioma, thought to be due to asbestos exposure during his time in the U.S. Marines and heavy smoking .
In the UK asbestos licensing regulations were introduced in 1983 with Asbestos (Licensing) Regulations  and a final ban in 1999 .
As well as the type of asbestos, the other risk factor concerns the hardness. Asbestos products that are hard, typically like cement, have a lower probability of releasing asbestos compared to those like insulation materials. Indeed, asbestos cement products like flat or corrugated roofing sheets and cladding are deemed to have low friability, a measure of chipping or crumbling, as are bitumen or vinyl materials like roofing felt. Yet other types of asbestos material like loose insulation and sprayed coatings have a high friability and are also a hazard. Friable asbestos is defined as that which can be reduced to powder when dry.
How do I know if my roof contains asbestos?
Old leaking asbestos roofs are one of the major risks. Old roofing sheets are fragile and susceptible to breaking apart over time and have the potential to release harmful fibres. Fixings that are corroded and susceptible to lifting and leakage, further weakening the asbestos structure.
If in doubt, it is best to assume asbestos in your roofing system if the following are true:
- Roofing and insulation on buildings constructed pre-1985
- You weren’t the homeowner before 2000 and the building was constructed pre-2000
Note: see our guidelines on how to cost your asbestos roof replacement or encapsulation/coating can be found here.
What do I do if I think my roof contains asbestos?
Note: do not under any circumstances attempt to remove or disturb the asbestos roof yourself without specialist advice. If in doubt, isolate the vicinity, seal off areas of ventilation, notify persons localised in that area and place adequate signage at critical entry points, then contact a professional.
Asbestos Roof Removal
We strongly recommended that you contact a qualified roofing specialist or asbestos contractor to assess your roof if you think it might contain asbestos. Your asbestos roof may need to be removed and replaced using a specialist, or in other cases, you could benefit from an encapsulating it in a spray-on or roll-on resin.
How should I choose an asbestos roofing specialist?
At first glance
We recommend you look for or request the following information:
- Adequate training in asbestos awareness
- Comprehensive environmental, health and safety policy
- Track record of dealing with asbestos safely and effectively
- Staff with experience in asbestos removal
- Accreditations demonstrating compliance with Health & Safety standards
On-site / on your premises
Based on The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, we recommend the following steps to be performed by the contractor:
- Site inspection to assess the condition and type of roofing (flat roof or pitched roof) and any associated insulation
- Checking whether there is asbestos on premises, the amount and the condition.
- Preparing and implementing a plan for material risk management.
- Reviewing and monitoring the plan.
- Presuming materials contain asbestos unless there’s evidence it doesn’t.
- Providing information on the location and condition of the material to relevant parties.
- Full risk assessment and COSHH documentation
- Checking whether there’s asbestos on premises, the amount and the condition.
- Personal protective equipment: FFP3-grade asbestos respiratory masks, overalls, eye masks, gloves.
How is asbestos disposed of?
According to the UK Health and Safety Regulations, Asbestos waste is 'Special Waste' when it contains more than 0.1 % asbestos . Therefore any materials thought to contain equal to or above this amount should be assumed to contain asbestos. A list of other asbestos regulations is also available.
General procedures detailing asbestos waste disposal are:
- Approved waste disposal contractor
- Use of a lockable and sealable waste skip/container
- Confirmed disposed of in hazardous waste and landfill sites.
Thinking of arranging a specialist to remove asbestos from your roof?
If you think your roof or insulation contains asbestos, we recommend you contact a specialist to arrange a site visit.
With over 40 years of experience in roofing and asbestos removal, Strandek® GRP Systems are able to perform site surveys and facilitate the safe removal of asbestos materials from your roof, as well as install asbestos-free insulation and roofing installation.
Contact us today on 01633 250652 to speak to a technical specialist. Alternatively, email us.
Additional sources of information on asbestos regulations can be found below:
- The control of asbestos at work regulations, 2012
- ACOP L127 Management of Asbestos in Non-domestic Premises
- ACOP143 Work with Materials Containing asbestos CAR
- HSG227 A Comprehensive Guide to Managing Asbestos Premises
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999