Introduction Nearly 14 million homes were built possibly using asbestos-containing construction materials between 1950 and the mid-1980s. Certain types of asbestos were not banned until 1999. Although exposure to asbestos is the most common cause of death from occupational lung disease, a recent survey clearly demonstrated poor awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure amongst those trades-people most likely to be exposed to it. Since Do-It-Yourself (DIY) commonly results in asbestos exposure, we wondered whether homeowners are aware of the hazards of asbestos exposure in residential properties.
Methods A UK-wide, on-line questionnaire survey of homeowners was conducted among the 60 000 users of ‘Opinion Matters’ to elicit their knowledge and views on asbestos between 18.05.2010 and 01.06.2010.
Results 2002 homeowners completing the questionnaire. 55% live in homes built during the era when asbestos was commonly used as a building material. Respondents were predominantly from older age groups; knowledge about asbestos increased with the homeowner′s age. When buying houses, 40% did not check whether the fabric of the home contained asbestos. 52% respondents had performed DIY in their homes and 23% were planning to do so within the year. While 60% respondents thought that asbestos had been used in residential building and refurbishments, 3% believed that it had never been used and 12% believed that it was present only in factories and warehouse. 41% thought that all asbestos has now been removed from residential buildings. Most respondents (88%) sought professional advice regarding asbestos disposal but 3% just took it to the Council tip, 2% put it into their normal dustbins and 3% didn′t know what to do with it. Some precautions were taken when undertaking DIY; 71% respondents covered the furniture, 50% wore a dust mask and 43% wore protective overalls and goggles. However, only 29% checked for the presence of asbestos-containing materials (Abstract P12 Table 1).
Conclusions Despite recent Health and Safety Executive awareness campaigns among trades-people, homeowners, including those who practice DIY, have dangerous misconceptions about the presence of asbestos in residential properties and have a poor grasp of essential safety precautions necessary for dealing with it. More effective public awareness campaigns are urgently required.