Asbestos is a hazardous substance that causes ill-health to anyone who disturbs or damages it. Once disturbed, minuscule asbestos fibres are released into the air, which are then inhaled and have the potential to cause serious long-term damage to people’s health.
At its peak, asbestos was used in a variety of buildings, structures and products because of its range of incredible and idyllic properties. As well as being strong and cheap, asbestos is also heat-resistant, sound-absorbent and resistant to electrical currents – ideal for the construction of homes and workplaces.
One of the key uses for asbestos was in textured coatings, like Artex, which were used to create decorative finishes on ceilings and walls. It was particularly popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
These days the dangers of asbestos are relatively well known and, as a consequence, the material has been banned in the UK since 1999. Despite this fact, asbestos still widely exists in buildings and products built and installed before this date, so it’s essential that people working in properties built pre-2000 understand the risks and know what they can do to manage them.
How is the asbestos in Artex disturbed?
Asbestos in textured coatings can be disturbed or damaged by all kinds of work activity, such as drilling holes, knocking down walls and buildings, re-plastering or removing plasterboard.
If the textured coating is in good condition and is left alone, however, then the asbestos fibres will not be released and will do no harm.
How do I know if my ceiling or wall coatings contain asbestos?
Asbestos is a difficult substance to identify as it is often mixed with other materials when it is made into the surface coating. What’s more, asbestos fibres are so small that even when airborne they cannot be seen or smelled.
The presence of asbestos can only be determined by professional laboratory testing.
If you come across a textured coating in your property, and know that it was installed pre-2000, then best practice is to assume that it may contain asbestos. Contact a licensed company (e.g. asbestos surveyor or removal firm) to take a sample and test for asbestos before beginning any work.
Can I carry out work on textured coatings that contain asbestos?
If it has been confirmed that the textured coatings in your property contain asbestos then it’s fine to leave them alone if they are in good condition and undamaged. If left alone the asbestos does not pose a risk to your health.
If you plan to carry out minor work on asbestos-containing coatings, such as drilling holes to install fittings or repainting coatings that are in good condition, then you may do so provided that you are appropriately trained. This kind of work is known as non-licensable work and the person doing it must understand how to assess the risks, work safely and follow the relevant legal requirements.
If you plan to carry out major work on asbestos-containing coatings, such as large-scale removal of the textured coating or repairing damage, then you must notify the relevant enforcing authority before work can begin.
Can I cover up or skim over textured coatings that contain asbestos?
If the textured coating/Artex is in good condition then it is safe to apply a sealant, cover the coating with new plasterboard or skim over it with a new layer of plaster. In fact, sometimes this can help to make the material safer as it encapsulates the asbestos making it less likely to be disturbed.
Avoid sanding, grinding or chipping off the asbestos-containing coating first as this can damage the asbestos and cause fibres to become airborne.
How do I remove the asbestos in textured coatings?
Asbestos-removal is an incredibly high-risk job as it’s likely that large quantities of asbestos fibres will be released into the air during the process. If you plan to remove asbestos using steaming or gelling methods then you must be appropriately trained and notify the relevant enforcing authority first.
The large-scale removal of asbestos in textured coatings/Artex should only be done by a HSE licensed contractor. Never try to remove asbestos coatings yourself as this is a serious risk to your health and safety.