Asbestos: What it is and Why it’s a Legal Responsibility

Asbestos is the greatest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK. So what is and where did it come from?

Due to its high strength to weight ratio and its high insulating properties, Asbestos was dubbed a ‘wonder material’ in the early 1900s and used extensively as building material between the 1950s and mid-1980s. Used for everything from loft insulation and ‘Artex’ ceiling coverings to floor tiles and Fascia boards, asbestos was also praised for its versatility.

Although asbestos helped to make big leaps in the construction world, it wasn’t that much later that it was discovered to cause major health implications. Over time, or once the material was damaged, breathing in the asbestos fibres in the air caused many major respiratory diseases, such as lung cancer or lung scarring.

When it was discovered that the widespread use of asbestos in the UK was causing a direct threat to human health, the material was banned in 1999; now there are also laws in place to help minimise the risk of injury and illness. With these laws being governed and enforced by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), legislation includes the mandatory testing of buildings that fit certain criteria.

A warning sign for asbestos

Where is Asbestos Found and What to Do?

Asbestos is still found in buildings built before the 2000s and is most commonly seen as corrugated sheet roofing on farms, on council house outbuildings and in many local authority-owned properties. As it was commonly used as fireproofing material, domestically it can be found in partition walls, ceiling tiles, soffits, and in panels in fire doors and windows.

What many people tend to do, especially domestically and in the building trade, is overlook the importance of an asbestos survey. It might keep the costs down, but the effects on families are not worth it. Therefore, if you are a construction worker, business owner or landlord, you need to be aware of what your legal responsibilities are when it comes to asbestos.

What are your legal responsibilities?


Landlords and Companies

It is the responsibility of the “duty holder” to ensure Asbestos regulations are adhered to. The duty holder will be the building’s owner, although it can also be a third party if that person or company has “clear responsibility for maintenance or repair.” In this case, the extent of the duty will depend on the nature of the agreement.

The building will have a Management Survey undertaken to ascertain the extent of asbestos in the building. The survey will determine the type and extent and may include sampling of the suspected areas to confirm the presence of Asbestos.

Completing this survey will:

  • Produce an Asbestos Register for the building
  • Provide the necessary information for staff in terms of their likelihood to encounter asbestos in their day to day work
  • Provide vital information for any contractors working on the building, and allow them to plan a scheme of works that doesn’t detrimentally affect the asbestos nor the persons present

Fire fighters in their silver protective clothing

Designers, Construction & Builders

Prior to commencing any construction work, the building must have a Refurbishment and Demolition Survey carried out.

Completing this survey will:

  • Identify the type, amount and location of asbestos in the building
  • Provide the necessary information to form part of the tender document to cost for the safe removal and disposal of the asbestos
  • Provide vital information so that plans can be made to prevent harm to workers during subsequent construction work

As a homeowner, when commissioning a builder, always ask if the building needs an asbestos survey. Builders often skirt over this necessity to keep the costs down so it’s up to you to make them aware that you know about this issue.


Over 5,000 people a year die in the UK from asbestos-related diseases, so it is really important the laws are adhered to, to help diminish this number. Whether a construction worker, landlord or business owner, by law you need to complete the necessary survey to examine the building and ensure the safety of the workers or occupants. If you do not abide by the HSE legislations, you will be directly liable for any consequences.


If you want more information regarding asbestos regulations, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Active HSE carry out Management and Demolition and Refurbishment Surveys, including sampling and general Asbestos-related advice.

Active HSE

07921 278986


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