Tradesmen such as electricians 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 deal with and handle 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.


  • 1.3 million tradesmen are at risk from dangers of asbestos
  • 1 in 50 electricians born in the 1940’s and have worked in the industry for 10 years are most at risk of developing an asbestos disease
  • 670 electricians died between 2002-2006 as a result of an asbestos disease
  • Asbestos exposure kills 6 electricians every week [1]

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

Uses of asbestos with electricity

Hailed by the Greeks as “magic mineral”, asbestos is known for its heat resistance and fire proof properties. During the 1950’s up until 1999, asbestos was used widely to help insulate electrical wires and prevent sparks or electrical charges from hurting people.

YouTube Video: Asbestos in Electrical Work 1959 (America)

How would I come in contact with asbestos?

Maintaining electrical systems requires a sound skill and knowledge of a building. This is especially important when it comes to repairing wiring within a remodelled building that was built using asbestos. Electrical products found in houses built before the mid 1980?s would have been built using asbestos.

For example, old wiring could contain felted asbestos insulation and circuit breakers used to have older arc chutes that contained asbestos plastic moulding compound. The installation of new wiring saw many electricians uncover asbestos in the walls during the drilling of new conduits.

This activity is fatal for electricians as the vibration of the drill creates a disturbance causing it to release the fibres into the air in the form of dust…and into the lungs. You must always ensure you have the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) when performing a job in case of asbestos exposure.

Other ways in which you could come into contact with asbestos is through:

  • Cutting through dry walls and ceiling tiles
  • Drilling through wallboards to install or reroute wiring in homes and businesses
  • Insulation film and/or paper to avoid electrocution from exposed wire (used up until 1970’s)
  • Repairing of removing or repairing of older wiring/insulation with asbestos (after 1980’s)

High Voltage Cables with Asbestos Insulation Wrappings, GE Asbestos Fibres in Electrical Arc Chute, Woven Asbestos Cable Wrap Insulation.

Source: Asbestorama/Flickr. From left to right – High Voltage Cables with Asbestos Insulation Wrappings, GE Asbestos Fibres in Electrical Arc Chute, Woven Asbestos Cable Wrap Insulation.

Asbestos containing products used by electricians

It is all well and good knowing where you might find asbestos, but knowing which products commonly used by electricians before 1999 will help you identify an asbestos product much quicker.

  • Thermal paper
  • Electrical cloth
  • Electric wiring insulation
  • Cement siding
  • Textured paints
  • Decorative plaster
  • Electrical panel and partitions
  • Electrical ducts
  • Cement wallboards & cement siding

Trumbull Electrical Switchbox with Molded Asbestos Parts

Source & Credit: Asbestorama/Flickr. Trumbull Electrical Switchbox with Molded Asbestos Parts

Damaged, Friable Asbestos Electrical Wire Insulation

Source & Credit: Asbestorama/Flickr. Damaged, Friable Asbestos Electrical Wire Insulation

Close-up Asbestos-Insulated Appliance Electrical Cord Sample

Source & Credit: Asbestorama/Flickr. Close-up Asbestos-Insulated Appliance Electrical Cord Sample

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[4]:

  • 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

Where is asbestos found - Industrial Areas

 Where asbestos hides - Industrial Property Diagram 



Where is asbestos found - Residential Areas

 Where asbestos hides - Residential Property Diagram



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.[5]

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[6].

  • 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

Asbestos. It's your problem.

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.

HSE PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Guide - Page 1 HSE PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Guide - Page 2

If you or a family member are suffering from an asbestos disease, contact Asbestos Justice on 0800 038 6767 for expert legal advice.

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