Why Is Asbestos Banned?

Asbestos has been banned in the UK – and a number of other countries across the world – for a number of years. In short, asbestos was found to be hugely harmful for the human body. In fact, many asbestos-related injuries are fatal.

But, despite this, the banning of asbestos didn’t happen all at once. Here we will take a look at when and why asbestos was banned in the UK, as well as some of the key asbestos dangers to be aware of.

When was asbestos banned in the UK?

Asbestos was only fully banned from use in the UK construction industry as recently as 1999. While blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) asbestos were banned in 1985, white (chrysotile) asbestos wasn’t banned until 15 years later. The 1999 blanket ban on asbestos meant that the manufacture and supply of all asbestos products is now illegal in the UK.

Why was asbestos banned in UK construction?

In short, we now know that asbestos is harmful to the human body.

If you inhale asbestos fibres, they can embed themselves in your lungs causing a number of asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and types of cancer including lung, laryngeal, and ovarian. Many of these asbestos related diseases are usually fatal.

At its peak in the 60’s and 70’s, asbestos was used in over 3000 products – including cement and a number of everyday items – and the UK was importing over 170,000 tonnes of asbestos a year.

Why then, did it take until the late 1980s and 1990s for asbestos to be banned in the UK? The biggest problem is that asbestos related illnesses take a long time to develop. In many cases the symptoms of such illnesses show a number of years after initial exposure.

If it’s so harmful, why was asbestos used?

Asbestos is now banned in the UK construction industry, despite it being a hugely popular material for decades before then. In fact, it is even believed that Romans were early adopters of asbestos, however they too noted a “sickness of the lungs” when exposed to it.

Thanks to the industrial revolution, asbestos became a widely used building material in the UK. It was cheap, strong, insulating, heat and fire resistant, sound absorbing, and above all – widely available. It’s easy to see why it became so popular.

UKATA asbestos awareness

Though the use of all forms of asbestos was banned in 1999, it is still present in buildings built before 2000. This means anyone working in the UK construction industry should always be cautious and mindful when working in older buildings.

The dangers of asbestos are not to be underestimated, which is why all employers have a legal duty under The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 to provide workers with the appropriate information, instruction, and training necessary for working in an environment where it is likely they will come into contact with asbestos.

Find out more about our UKATA Asbestos Awareness course here.