Tradesmen such as Carpenters and Joiners could come into contact with asbestos more than an estimated 100 times a year, with few workers knowing whether the deadly material is present in buildings which they are working on.

This is according to a report which has lead the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to launch a new safety and awareness campaign amid concerns about how to combat exposure to asbestos. A survey of 500 tradespeople showed that less than a third were aware of the correct ways to dealing with and handling asbestos in the workplace.

Worryingly only 15% knew that asbestos could still be found in buildings built up to the year 2000. White asbestos was banned in the UK in 1999 meaning that its use did not cease completely until the year 2000 when the final stocks of asbestos products had been used.

Like all trades such as plumbers, electricians and ventilation engineers, joiners and carpenters were frequently exposed to asbestos throughout their career between the 1940?s and 80?s.


  • 1.3 million tradesmen are at risk from dangers of asbestos
  • 1 in 17 carpenters and joiners born in the 1940’s and have worked in the industry for 10 years are most at risk of developing an asbestos disease
  • 598 carpenters and joiners died between 1991-2000 as a result of an asbestos disease

Carpenters and Joiners – Defining the Difference 

Over the years, Carpenters and Joiners have been perceived as one profession when we refer to any wood-work related jobs. As professionals from both trades would agree, they require different skill sets and purposes within the construction industry. Traditionally carpenters worked with natural wood prepared by splitting (riving), hewing or sawing with a pit-saw or sawmill called timber, which is now always prepared by joiners.

These days many aspiring carpenters and joiners are trained through an apprenticeship or college and learn skills from both trades. Interestingly, in America the term ‘joinery’ and other aspects of the trade has been lost and now falls under the terminology of ‘carpentry’. This could possibly have contributed to the current confusion between the two professions.


Joiners create the very foundations of a future home or commercial buildings, they specialise in cutting and fitting joints within wood. They built their craft within workshops using some traditional and non-traditional tools such as circular saws and chisels.

When the profession first began, joinery was seen as a trade which didn’t require nails or screws however over the years many have began to use screws to strengthen the joints between wood. Another strengthener that has been adopted by joiners to bond wood together is glue.

Joiner Apprentices. Source: , LMS Magazine, September 1936

Joiners are responsible for building the elements for construction using timber. This also includes fitting and installing joinery components such as door hinges. As a result, carpenters and joiners always work closely together throughout a construction project.

It is thought by many DIY enthusiasts that joinery is as simple as sticking two pieces of wood together…this simply isn’t the case. Joinery is an art form in itself. The forming of joints that will fit together perfectly using ‘teeth’, dovetails, grooves or channels requires patience and absolute precision.

Common items joiners build are:

  • stairs
  • cabinets
  • bookcases
  • tables
  • exterior/interior doors
  • timber framework joints for new buildings


“Carpenter” a word that derives from the Old French “Carpentier” and spanning its lexical roots further back to the ancient Latin “carpentrius” or “maker of carriage,” is a profession that has been around since the beginning of time.

The first carpenters were the inventors and users of wood working tools. The necessity to construct wood-based structures for homes gave birth to the carpenter’s profession.

Some of the first recorded made from stone and wood from Greece, including wooden structures from 7th Century Japan still standing today. This really defies the the fact that wood isn’t able to last for more than a few years.

Nij? Castle in Kyoto. Source: "20100717 Kyoto Nijo Castle 2696" by Jakub Ha?un - Own work. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons

Nij? Castle in Kyoto. Source: “20100717 Kyoto Nijo Castle 2696” by Jakub Ha?un – Own work. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons

Carpenters specialise in constructing and completing large projects including wood. They install the timber products (such as windows and doors) crafted by joiners, including the main fabrications of buildings such as roof trusses, joisted floors and stud-work for partitioning the building.

Compared to joiners who work within workshops, carpenters work on-site.

Short History of Carpentry

18th Century – This period saw the rise of the Industrial Revolution, where machines replaced skilled workers. The invention of steam engines (invented by Samuel Bentham) and the circular saw (invented by Samuel Miller) caused the decline in traditional timber framing.

19th Century – Electrical engineering became vastly available, new inventions such as power tools and machines that were able to mass produce screws and nails came on the market.

20th Century – Materials such as Portland cement, drywall, plywood came into use. As did asbestos.

Asbestos Exposure

Between 1940 and 1980, asbestos, an inexpensive insulation material with superior heat and fire resistance properties, was commonly used in construction. Wood structure houses that were built or refurbished during that time-frame are most likely to contain some form of asbestos. Asbestos was also used for insulating boilers and generators.

In a press release by the HSE, they highlighted that blue asbestos was not used in Britain after 1970, but the use of brown asbestos continued into the 1980’s, and carpenters often cut and drilled brown asbestos insulation board with power tools [1].

Many of the products that carpenters used at that time also contained asbestos further increasing the risk of exposure. These products included wall board, gypsum, floor tiles, shingles, paint, paper and cement. The use of power tools increased the risk of exposure as the vibrations would disturb the asbestos and cause the fibres to become airborne in the form of dust.

floot tile

Source: Asbestorama/Flickr – Congoleum-Nairn Romanaire Asbestos Floor Tile VA581

Until the mid 1980’s when the dangers of asbestos exposure became more widely known, many carpenters were unaware of the risks and did not take appropriate safety measures. Today, thanks to much research and awareness raised by organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive, carpenters use masks and respirators to avoid risking exposure to potentially harmful asbestos fibres.

Joiners have fairly low risk of asbestos exposure as they work within their own workshop however they are sometimes required to work on-site, putting them at high risk of asbestos exposure. Many were asked to cut old asbestos away from house roofs and replace it with corrugated style asbestos sheets, others used to use asbestos to pack rawl plugs for the fittings, as well as working near to other tradesmen who were working with asbestos and generating dust in the environment.


Source: Asbestorama/Flickr – Asbestos Joint-Compound

Commentary from Asbestorama: Example of asbestos joint-compound applied over drywall panel seams with heavy strokes, as determined by laboratory analysis via polarized light microscopy (PLM). This gypsum wallboard system was used as an encasement around HVAC ductwork (mid-to-late 1960’s construction era).

When am I most at risk?

The Health and Safety Executive have defined the main risk-situations of asbestos exposure for those working in a trade occupation [2]. You are most at risk when:

  • the building you are working on was built before the year 2000
  • you are working on an unfamiliar site
  • asbestos-containing materials were not identified before the job was started
  • asbestos-containing materials were identified but this information was not passed on by the people in charge to the people doing the work
  • you haven’t done a risk assessment
  • you don’t know how to recognise and work safely with asbestos
  • you have not had appropriate information, instruction and training
  • you know how to work safely with asbestos, but you choose to put yourself at risk by not following proper precautions, perhaps to save time or because no one else is following proper procedures

Removing asbestos without proper precautions and insufficient protective equipment could cause the release of asbestos fibres into the air and inhaled into the lungs.

Where is asbestos found?

Asbestos is a deadly fibre that can be found in many buildings that still remain occupied today, industrial and residential buildings. For residential owners, when it comes to finding a new home or if you live in a home that was built before 2000, be wary of the possibilities of asbestos within the building.

It is important that you know if asbestos is present or if it has been completely removed, or in some cases never been present in the first place. Below are two images provided by the Health and Safety Executive[3] showing where asbestos can be found within the home and in industrial buildings.

Examples of where you might find asbestos[3]:

  • As packing between floors and in partition walls
  • Sprayed (‘limpet’) asbestos on structural beams and girders
  • Lagging on pipework, boilers, calorifiers, heat exchangers
  • Asbestos insulating board — ceiling tiles, partition walls, service duct covers, fire breaks, heater cupboards, door panels, lift shaft lining, fire surrounds, soffits etc
  • Asbestos cement products – roof and wall cladding, bath panels, boiler and incinerator flues, fire surrounds, gutters, rainwater pipes, and water tanks
  • Sealants on pipe joints, gaskets;
  • Fuse boxes (e.g. flash pads)
  • Electrical switchgear
  • Boards around radiators and windows









BLF Action Mesothelioma Day Celebrity Support

In 2010, The British Lung Foundation held Action Mesothelioma Day which aimed to ensure that homeowners do DIY safely and understand of the dangers of asbestos if it is disturbed. Craig Phillips fronted the Action Mesothelioma Day campaign

Being a builder by trade, Craig knows only too well the dangers of asbestos if you are exposed as his uncle currently lives with an asbestos-related illness. Since 2008, Craig Phillips has been supporting the British Lung Foundation to raise awareness of the asbestos related chest cancer mesothelioma [4].

Craig says:

“I am delighted to be able to help the British Lung Foundation; their work is invaluable to many people across the country. This campaign focuses on the building industry which is why I wanted to get involved because I owe a lot to the industry and if I can protect it in any way I will. The initiative is also close to my heart as my uncle has been affected by asbestos exposure so I know exactly how dangerous asbestos can be.”

Full credit: British Lung Foundation

Reducing asbestos damages

There are ways of minimising the risk of asbestos exposure. The BLF’s campaign Take 5 and Stay Alive highlighted the correct tools and tips on how to carry out a job safely [5].

  • Control overall asbestos dust production
  • Wear the correct PPE
  • Don’t take your work clothes home
  • Use hand-tools instead of power-tools to keep dust to a minimum
  • Use appropriate protective mask (FFP3) and clothing
  • Don’t reuse disposable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Don’t eat, drink or smoke in the work area
  • Don’t sweep up dust or debris. Use a Class H vacuum cleaner or damp rags instead.

To find out more about the campaign, visit their website here: Take 5 and Stay


PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

As always, the HSE is fantastic when it comes to providing information about health and safety at work. One of the most important aspects of safety when dealing with asbestos is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Below you will find information sheets explaining the correct equipment to use when removing asbestos.

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If you, a family member or colleague are concerned over asbestos exposure, contact Asbestos Justice on 0800 038 6767 for expert legal advice.

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