The hazards of asbestos‌‌‌‌

Asbestos is the largest single cause of work-related fatal disease and ill-health in Britain.  Almost all asbestos-related deaths and ill-health are from exposures which occurred several decades ago.  At present, all diseases caused by inhaling asbestos fibres are incurable.  All types of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) can be dangerous if disturbed and therefore great care must be taken to avoid generating airborne fibres which could be breathed in.

Asbestos in buildings

Some University buildings date from periods when asbestos was widely used in construction and asbestos containing materials may be found in the fabric of some older buildings across the campus.  Estates have carried out surveys and taken steps to ensure that these materials do not pose a risk to occupants during normal use of our buildings. 

To ensure that any asbestos containing materials remain in a safe condition, work that involves disturbance to the fabric of the buildings MUST NOT be initiated by any management unit without prior consultation with Estates.  Even an apparently simple action such as drilling a wall for shelving may potentially cause damage to asbestos containing materials hidden within the structure and could release airborne fibres.

For practical purposes, it is the University's policy that NO work with asbestos or asbestos containing materials should be carried out by University staff or students. The only exception to this is low-risk, scientific-type work, but this does have to be managed safely and subject to full risk assessment. SEPS should be consulted for advice if any such work is proposed, or is taking place.

Equipment containing asbestos

Schools and Services may be responsible for equipment that contains asbestos or ACMs. ACMs may be found in older laboratory equipment such as ovens, furnaces, autoclaves, heat resistant mats etc and equipment with soundproofing or thermal insulation.  

If it cannot be confirmed that the equipment is asbestos-free, or if any doubt exists, the equipment should be treated as containing asbestos and cannot be worked on in any way that may cause disturbance to any ACM, however slight that disturbance may be. 

Advice on the likely presence of ACMs in specific items of equipment and sampling of any suspect material to confirm whether it is asbestos can be obtained from SEPS or from the Estates Asbestos Manager who can put units in contact with specialist asbestos surveyors and contractors.

Disposal of equipment containing ACMs

ACMs must not be disposed of through the normal refuse stream.  Equipment which contains ACMs should not be bought or sold (or gifted).  Guidance on disposal of any item suspected to contain ACMs can be obtained from the Estates Asbestos Manager, or from SEPS.


Advice and procedures for contractors and for those more directly involved in work with asbestos and work on the building fabric is contained in the University Asbestos Management Plan which is available via Estates.  This document also contains details of the emergency procedure to be followed in the event of discovery, or accidental disturbance, of asbestos.‌

Further information

Useful information on asbestos is also available from the HSE Asbestos website which can be found at