The B.C. government is bringing in new protections to help keep workers safe from the danger of asbestos.
New standards will be introduced under the Workers Compensation Act that will require asbestos abatement contractors be licensed to operate in B.C. and will require workers and employers who perform this work to complete mandatory safety training and certification. Asbestos abatement work includes assessing, removing, repairing, transporting and disposing of materials that may contain asbestos.
“Asbestos is a silent killer, and its terrible effects often don’t show for years after exposure,” said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour. “There were 280 deaths from asbestos exposure over the past five years alone. The changes we are bringing in will address this by creating better safety standards for asbestos abatement contractors and ensuring all their workers are properly trained and certified.”
Since 2000, asbestos has been the cause of more than 50% of all work-related occupational disease deaths and approximately 33% of all work-related deaths.
Asbestos was commonly used in construction in Canada until the late 1980s. There is a significant risk to workers involved in the renovation or demolition of older buildings.
The proposed amendments will help strengthen existing regulatory requirements for asbestos abatement work. Until now, B.C. has lacked a comprehensive licensing and training system for asbestos abatement contractors. WorkSafeBC has reported unsafe handling and disposal practices by contractors, many of whom allow workers who lack formal training in asbestos safety protocols to perform abatement work.
The proposed changes were developed in response to a report prepared by the government’s cross-ministry asbestos working group, which identified steps that the Province and its agencies can take to further protect people and the environment from the dangers of asbestos.
Al Johnson, head of prevention services, WorkSafeBC –
“We support efforts to keep workers safe from the dangers of asbestos by adding further layers of protection and assurance. That’s why we were pleased to participate in the cross-ministry asbestos working group and view the new standards for licensing and safety training as a positive step forward.”
Don Whyte, industry advocate and former executive director, Hazardous Materials Association –
“Many buildings in B.C. were constructed during the peak use of asbestos-containing building products. These buildings are now at an age where renovation or demolition is required. The potential for exposure to asbestos in the construction industry has never been greater. I am very pleased to see a competency requirement for those who handle this hazardous material.”
Neil Munro, business manager, BC Insulator's Union –
“Licensing asbestos abatement contractors is an important step towards ending the death toll of workers exposed to this terrible carcinogen. As the first such licensing in Canada, it will serve as a model for other provinces to follow.”
Laird Cronk, president, BC Federation of Labour –
“Asbestos is the number one killer of B.C. workers, and these measures are going to save lives. We've been saying for years that licensing, training and enforcement are crucial to preventing further exposures and more deaths. It's good to see government taking action to protect people from this insidious, lethal substance and leading the country in licensing.”
- Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was used as an ingredient in a variety of building construction materials prior to 1990.
- Asbestos is often found in construction materials, drywall, building insulation, car and truck brake pads and the natural environment, and it becomes hazardous when it is disturbed and releases dust or fibres into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested.
- While other provinces have taken steps to improve the safe handling of asbestos, B.C. will be the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement a licensing requirement.
- In 2021, asbestos exposure was a contributing factor in 53 of 161 workplace deaths.
- Many cases originate from workplace exposures to asbestos 20, 30 or more years ago when it was still being widely used in building construction.
Learn more about WorkSafeBC’s Asbestos Initiatives Program: https://www.worksafebc.com/en/health-safety/hazards-exposures/asbestos
Read the report from government’s cross-ministry working group on asbestos: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/121/2018/12/6493-Asbestos-Report-2018-Final.pdf