Exposure to asbestos garage roofs remains an ever-present health threat more than 15 years after white asbestos was finally banned from use in 1999 and three decades after the first UK ban in 1985. A former store worker, just in his late 50s when he recently died from mesothelioma cancer, was said to have been exposed to fibres from an asbestos roof at his workplace, the only known source of his contact with the deadly material.

Generally, asbestos awareness to the continuing risks tends to only be highlighted when piles of broken up corrugated sheets are discovered illegally dumped in country lanes or by the roadside. Builders, joiners, plumbers and electricians are, along with demolition workers, considered to be at the greatest daily risk of exposure to hidden asbestos containing materials whenever they begin a property renovation or major development.

Clear link to asbestos exposure

An inquest into the middle-aged man’s death heard that the deceased had “never worked with asbestos” or even been in close contact with the hazardous substance. Before his death, the victim stated that the only known source of his exposure was the dust particles, which were said to have fallen on him from a “crumbling” asbestos roof during the 13 years he was employed at a store during the 1970s and 80s.

The coroner said that the victim’s type of employment was “not where you would expect to be exposed to asbestos”. However, the court concluded there was “sufficient evidence” to support the claim that the victim had died from an industrial disease, most probably caused by exposure to asbestos fibres. A post mortem established a “clear occupational link” as the number of asbestos fibres found in the lung tissue was at a level consistent with exposure in the workplace.

Also found on garden sheds and storage units

The risks of contact with an asbestos roof, whenever it occurred, cannot be underestimated. It is still very possible to find that a garage roof, an extension or outbuilding is covered with white asbestos cement sheeting in residential properties as well as in commercial or industrial units. The professional construction industry repeatedly warn that at least half a million buildings still contain hidden quantities of asbestos and the Land Registry has stated that 55 per cent of all industrial / commercial properties in the UK contain a chrysotile asbestos cement roof.

A key issue faced by both homeowners, duty holders and company employers is how to distinguish between modern asbestos-free materials and an asbestos–containing material, which look almost identical. Corrugated asbestos sheeting, which is found usually on exterior garage roofs and property extensions, can also be discovered on garden sheds and storage units, often stained and the surface in a disintegrating condition.

Highly discoloured with weathering

The fibre content of roof sheeting is around 10 to 15 per cent, bound together with cement. Between 1950 and 1969, blue “crocidolite” asbestos fibres were used in the mix and brown “amosite” fibres from 1945 to at least 1976. White “chrysotile” fibres were also used, especially after these dates. Hence, asbestos roofing sheets were likely to have been originally blue-grey or dull white in colour if originally installed during their peak period of production.

Most sheeting is often found highly discoloured from moisture, weathering and / or damaged, and will easily release their fibre dust particles into the surrounding atmosphere when disturbed. Despite being once considered as “low risk”, white asbestos is today classified as a Class 1 cancer-causing agent. It is always strongly recommended that an authorised and licensed asbestos specialist be contacted via the local authority whenever asbestos is suspected of being present.