Tradesmen such as heating engineers 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, heating engineers 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 50 heating engineers born in the 1940’s and have worked in the industry for 10 years are most at risk of developing an asbestos disease
  • 414 heating engineers died between 2002-2010 as a result of an asbestos disease

Asbestos and Heating – What is the Link?

Thermal Insulation and Fire Resistance

Asbestos is known for its heat resistance and insulation properties and so was used to help insulate pipes, boilers, ducts and tanks in both homes and commercial properties in the 1940’s and 1970’s.

Chrysolite was the most common form of asbestos due to its flexibility and ability to be used as a joint-compound in plaster mix known as lagging, this was used to cover and insulate pipes and boilers.

The video below is a classic example of 1940’s advertising showing the benefits of using asbestos in your home.

Source: YouTube, British Pathe – Old Lags – Lag Your Pipes (1944)

Asbestos Exposure at Work

Occupational hazards come with every job, especially when working on old residential and commercial buildings. As asbestos was used because of its incredible heating insulation properties, you can find asbestos used throughout almost an entire house built in the 1950’s.

Boilers and pipes were the most common places to find asbestos lagging, this kept the water hot during extraction to various places within the home.

Nowadays an array of insulation such as high quality, flexible Polyethylene Pipe Insulation is used to contain heat within pipes and boilers. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work outlined the most common forms of asbestos use and possible exposure risks at work.


  • Asbestos laggings and packing for heat insulation of boilers, pipes, electrical ducts, electrical, water heaters, fire doors and partitions, industrial equipment;
  • Sprayed asbestos on steel structures or on concrete slab soffits for building fire protection and noise insulation.

Sheets or boards:

  • Asbestos millboard and paper for heat insulation (chimneys, ovens, gas or electric convector heaters, etc.), jointing and surface thermal protection;
  • Boards for false ceilings or fire retardant facings, fire doors or dampers, light partitions.

Yarns or fabrics:

  • Yarn, cord or rope, caulking and lagging material (lagging of boiler doors, heating pipework, engine exhausts, etc.);
  • Fabric band for heat protection;
  • Electrical insulating tape (electrical appliances and ductwork);
  • Fire resistant, noise insulation or expansion joint seals on structures or in partitions.

Damaged Asbestos Aircell Pipe Lagging, Residential BasementDamaged, Exposed Asbestos Pipe Insulation

Left Image, Source & Credit: Asbestorama/Flickr – Damaged Asbestos Aircell Pipe Lagging, Residential Basement

Right Image. Source & Credit: Asbestorama/Flickr – Damaged, Exposed Asbestos Pipe Insulation

A Heating Engineer's Story

We were contacted by the personal representative to the estate of Mr G, who sadly passed away from mesothelioma on 10th May 2006. Mr G was regularly exposed to asbestos when working for East Kirkby Engineering Co Limited in Lincolnshire between 1964 and 1996.

We were contacted after Mr G’s death and therefore needed to obtain evidence relating to his past exposure to asbestos from a colleague who worked alongside Mr G for 6 years during the 1980’s. Both were employed as heating engineers and the witness confirmed that Mr G would have regular cause to clean out flues, stand on lagging which covered calorifiers and also had to regularly chip off asbestos lagging as part of their duties in order to attend to leak repairs and other problems.

We successfully recovered £105,000.00 from the East Kirkby Engineering Co Limited’s insurers for the deceased’s widow.

This case is another example of how it is possible to succeed in a claim for asbestos disease compensation without a statement from the person who sadly passed away from a compensatable condition. Providing the deceased spoke with family members about his exposure or even better still, if statements can be obtained from their former work colleagues, then claims of this type can be successful.

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[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, 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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