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Health & Safety

Asbestos: Types and Hazards

Tuba Tasneem

March 07, 2023

Read time : 06 mins

Table of contents

Types Of Asbestos White Asbestos Blue Asbestos Brown Asbestos Asbestos Hazards Asbestos Training


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has discovered that asbestos-related diseases claim the lives of more than 5,000 employees in the UK each year. It is still frequently present in many buildings and items that date back to before 2000.

asbestos types

One of the most dangerous substances in a workplace is asbestos because of its fatal nature and its prevalence in older buildings and structures.

Nevertheless, despite the risks involved, many people still do not thoroughly understand the wide varieties. In this article, we’ll examine the three primary forms of asbestos, their qualities, their historical applications, and the legal ban on their use in the UK.

A naturally occurring silicate mineral, asbestos, can be found on the earth. Fibrous substances that have crystallised into fibres make up its structure. Certain varieties of asbestos, which were once frequently used in products like floor tiles, vehicle parts, and insulation, are no longer sold or utilised in the UK because of their serious health concerns.

It has several beneficial characteristics that have historically made it helpful in a wide range of applications, such as:

  • It is strong and flexible
  • It doesn’t conduct heat or electricity
  • It doesn’t burn
  • It has good resistance to chemicals

It is frequently mined in:

  • Russia
  • Brazil
  • South Africa
  • Cyprus
  • Canada

Types of Asbestos

The various forms of asbestos either fall within the amphibole or serpentine classes. There are physical differences between these two classes. Amphibole fibres have a straight appearance and resemble tiny needles, while curly fibres make up selenite.

The majority of its varieties are classified as amphibole. There are six distinct varieties of asbestos, each of which can be distinguished by appearance, albeit doing so necessitates a detailed examination under a microscope.

The three primary kinds of asbestos that were most frequently utilised are:

  • Chrysotile or white
  • Crocidolite or blue
  • Grunerite or brown

It’s crucial to understand that even though the prevalent forms of asbestos are described as brown, blue, or white, things containing them are unlikely to have those colours.

White Asbestos

The serpentine class includes chrysotile, sometimes referred to as white asbestos. It was the most prevalent kind and was present in 95 per cent of all materials containing asbestos (ACMs).

High flexibility, heat resistance, and alkali resistance are all characteristics of white asbestos fibres. The fibres are more malleable and can be spun or woven into fabric.

Chrysotile was utilised in a wide range of goods, including:

  • a reinforcement component in cement-like goods
  • Buildings’ corrugated asbestos cement roof sheets
  • joint substance
  • Plaster
  • linings in brakes
  • Fuse-box fire barriers
  • Carpet tiles
  • Gaskets
  • Insulate pipes

Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations 1999, a component of the UK, forbade its use and sale.

Blue Asbestos

The firm fibres of crocidolite resemble needles. The mineral is frequently found in Bolivia, Australia, and South Africa. Because blue asbestos is hydrophobic, like brown asbestos, it repels water. The fibres are also very acid resistant.

It was frequently used in lagging, insulation boards, and yarns. As insulation, it was also sprayed over surfaces.

Because it is the most hazardous, the Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations of 1985 prohibited its use throughout the UK.

Brown Asbestos

Grunerite is the name of the mineral that amosite, or brown asbestos, is in its natural state. The name “amosite” is an abbreviation for “Asbestos Mines of South Africa,” where the mineral is most frequently mined. Amosite fibres seem sharp, spiky, and greyish-white under a microscope.

Brown asbestos is hydrophobic, like blue asbestos. Therefore, dampening down with water is ineffective for reducing the discharge of brown asbestos fibres.

It has excellent acid and heat resistance and is highly sturdy. It was frequently used for:

  • Fireproofing on steel structures
  • Thermal insulation
  • Soundproofing material
  • Anti-condensation material

Under the Asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations of 1985, it was likewise prohibited from usage in the UK.

Hazards of Asbestos

Asbestos is not considered dangerous when it is in huge quantities and undamaged. Discharging asbestos fibres from damaged asbestos can result in serious, perhaps fatal, diseases.

Inhaling it can result in:

  • Mesothelioma (a form of cancer)
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer
  • Asbestosis (scarring of the lungs)
  • Pleural thickening

After the initial exposure it may take up to 50 years before asbestos-related cancer manifests itself. For years, related ailments may go undetected. When the ailment is ultimately recognised, it is typically too late for therapy, and the patient is thought to be in a terminal condition.

Training on Asbestos Safety

In many older buildings and goods throughout the UK, asbestos, an extremely toxic substance, is still present. Everyone who works in an environment where they might come into contact with it needs to be fully aware of the health dangers, reminded of the risks and aware of the necessary safety precautions. People can benefit from training to properly comprehend what asbestos is and its risks. Hurak offers a recognised online asbestos course, giving learners the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe at work.