WorkSafeBC is ramping up its direction to asbestos-abatement, demolition and general contractors to stop exposing construction workers to asbestos and to meet their legal obligation to manage asbestos safely and responsibly.
According to Al Johnson, vice-president, prevention services, some building contractors are not only risking their workers’ health but risking the future of their businesses. If word gets out that a contractor has cut corners and doesn’t take asbestos seriously, it can do significant harm to their professional reputation.
The regulatory consequences of contractors not identifying asbestos properly, not removing it safely and not following safe work procedures include stop-work orders and fines. This year to date, WorkSafeBC has issued more asbestos-related stop-work orders and fines than in all of 2016 — resulting in lost hours, blown deadlines and cancelled projects.
In homes built before 1990, asbestos can potentially be found in more than 3,000 building materials. Asbestos can be released into the air when these building materials are drilled, sawed, sanded or broken up during a renovation or demolition.
Workers can breathe in asbestos fibres if they are not protected. If workers breathe in enough asbestos, their lungs can be permanently damaged or result in death. There is a long latency period (10 to 40 years on average) between the time a worker breathes in asbestos fibres and when a disease can develop. In the 10 years from 2007-16, there were 605 workers in British Columbia who died from asbestos-related diseases.