Flooring Materials & Asbestos

Feb 28, 2023

Vinyl Flooring
Vinyl flooring is made from a type of plastic resin that is very sturdy yet flexible, easy to wash and cheap to install. In addition, vinyl products can be manufactured with almost any colour and texture making them an attractive and cheap option for builders and interior design.

In the past, vinyl manufacturers often mixed asbestos fibres into their products for greater strength and insulating properties. Construction companies also favoured asbestos-containing materials (ACM) as an essential component for fire-resistance. Because both vinyl and asbestos were inexpensive and easy to work with, asbestos vinyl products were widely used.

Asbestos could be incorporated directly in the vinyl material (mostly common in thermoplastic floor tiles or PVC vinyl floor) (picture 1 below) but it was also used in the lining or paper backing of vinyl sheet flooring to provide fire protection and insulation (see pictures 2 and 3 below).

According to HSE Document HSG 264 (2012) vinyl floor tiles can have between 2 – 25% of white asbestos in the material. While paper backing or lining material is made approximately of 100% white asbestos (sometimes organic fibres can also be present).

Asbestos becomes dangerous when respirable fibres of the mineral are released and become airborne. Vinyl tile products (where asbestos is incorporated into the tile matrix) that are in good condition are considered non-friable, which means the products are not easily broken by slight pressure. On the other hand, there may be substantial release of asbestos when paper backing or lining is present and exposed to the air, as the paper backing can be very friable. If the vinyl is removed and the paper backing is left on the floor, large areas can get contaminated with asbestos as people start to walk on the exposed material and it can be much worse if the paper is sanded.

For this reason, it is very important to have your vinyl tested for the presence of asbestos before you do anything with it. Please also be aware that it is common practice to lay new vinyl on top of old vinyl, so the person collecting the sample needs to make sure all the layers are sampled, including the old vinyl and its backing.

For more information about removing flooring material with asbestos check the WorkSafe Handy Hints: Removing Asbestos-Containing Flooring. If you need more information about sampling the material, please contact us.

Below are some images showing some flooring materials without magnification (left) and under the stereo microscope – 30x magnification (right).

Photo 1 Thermoplastic Floor

Pictures 1 & 2 – Example of thermoplastic flooring material where the asbestos fibres
were incorporated in the plastic.

Photo 2 Flooring

Pictures 3 & 4 – Vinyl flooring with asbestos backing paper and bituminous paper (left) and bundles
of white asbestos in paper backing layer (right).

Photo 3 Flooring

Pictures 5 & 6 – Example of vinyl with asbestos paper backing.