Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that was used extensively in construction from the 1950s to 1990s due to its low cost, resistance to fire and insulating properties. It is commonly used in spray-applied fireproofing, mechanical insulation, linoleum, floor tiles, drywall taping compound, vermiculite, cement board and tiles, cement pipes and textured decorative coating.
Diseases caused by exposure to asbestos remain the top occupational killers in BC. More than half of all work-related fatalities are from occupational diseases, of which the majority are from exposure to asbestos.
Several provincial government ministries, agencies and other levels of government play a role in the handling of asbestos particularly with regard to the renovation of residential buildings.
Asbestos in demolition and renovation – responsibilities
- Special techniques are required to remove asbestos safely.
- If you suspect asbestos is present, stop work immediately and have a qualified asbestos professional complete an asbestos survey.
- Home owners and landlords considering renovation, particularly in buildings built before 1990, should call in removal experts, or, at least, not disturb asbestos or attempt removal without following all precautions as set out in the handbook “Safe Work Practices for Handling Asbestos” available on the WorkSafeBC website: https://www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/health-safety/books-guides/safe-work-practices-for-handling-asbestos?lang=en
- WorkSafeBC Officers receive and review demolition permits issued by some municipalities allowing them to know in advance where residential demolitions will be taking place. Those municipalities requiring the accompanying asbestos survey (Coquitlam, Vancouver, Saanich, Nanaimo, and Port Coquitlam) also make that survey available to officers.
- As part of WorkSafeBC’s Asbestos Initiatives Program’s outreach and education focus, WorkSafeBC launched a Homeowners Awareness Campaign beginning Nov. 7, 2016, which continues to run in the first quarter of 2017.
Work Site Requirements
- WorkSafeBC: the Workers Compensation Act, Occupational Health and Safety Regulation outlines the requirements and related guidelines regarding identification, exposure, designated work areas and containments and handling and disposal of asbestos at work sites.
- WorkSafeBC’s mandate includes enforcing rules and health and safety regulations through inspections related to asbestos remediation. In addition, WorkSafeBC engages in education and consultation through online materials and through their Prevention Officers.
Local Government’s role
- It is the local government, not the province, which has the responsibility and the authority to establish and enforce standards of maintenance bylaws for existing buildings. That authority is established through the Community Charter. Tenants may contact their local government and have municipal inspectors investigate the conditions at the property to determine if they are in violation of health and safety requirements.
- Ministry of Health: the Public Health Act and regulations require reporting, to medical health officers, of pollution events that create a health hazard, and authorize public health officials to investigate and require actions to protect the public.
- Ministry of Environment: the ministry regulates “waste asbestos” as hazardous waste if the waste contains friable (easily crumbled or powdered by hand) asbestos fibres or asbestos dust in a certain concentration (greater than 1 % at time of manufacture or as determined in the Hazardous Waste Regulation). It also governs how asbestos is to be transported and disposed of.
- If asbestos is found, the law requires employers to hire a qualified abatement contractor to remove it. A qualified person must also certify that the worksite air is safe, following the completion of the asbestos removal work.
- The Residential Tenancy Act requires landlords to maintain their rental properties in a state that is suitable for occupancy - they must meet housing, safety and building standards required by law.
- When a tenant has a problem with a rental unit, the tenant should inform the landlord of the problem in writing.
- If the landlord does not respond to the request in a reasonable amount of time, the tenant may apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch for dispute resolution, seeking compensation for any additional costs the tenant incurs or a rent reduction.
- A landlord has a duty of care under the Occupier’s Liability Act to ensure that a person on the rental property will be reasonably safe.
- If a landlord is aware of a hazard on the rental property, but fails to inform the tenant, the courts may find that the landlord has been negligent or has breached a duty to warn of the hazard.
- Additional information regarding the management of waste asbestos is provided for home owners through the Ministry of Environment’s “Management of Waste Asbestos by Home Owners in B.C” available here under the heading Home Owners: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/waste-management/hazardous-waste/registration-of-hazardous-waste-generators-and-facilities/management-of-waste-asbestos
- WorkSafeBC webpage about asbestos awareness for homeowners: https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/hazards-exposures/asbestos/think-asbestos
- Info on Provincial Cross-Ministry Asbestos Working Group: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2017JTST0095-000776
Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training with responsibility for WorkSafeBC: Media Relations 250 387-2799
Ministry of Natural Gas Development with responsibility for Residential Tenancy Branch: Media Relations 250-952-0617
Ministry of Health: Media Relations 250-952-3387
Ministry of Environment: Media Relations 250 953-3834
Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development 250-356-6334