The provincial government plans to bring in new regulations that will require asbestos abatement contractors be licensed to operate in B.C., along with 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, in a media release. “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 per cent of all work-related occupational disease deaths and about one third of all work-related deaths, accord to the province. Asbestos was commonly used in construction in Canada until the late 1980s.
“We’ve been saying for years that licensing, training and enforcement are crucial to preventing further exposures and more deaths,” said Laird Cronk, BC Federation of Labour president. “It’s good to see government taking action to protect people from this insidious, lethal substance and leading the country in licensing.”
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.
The proposed changes were developed in response to a report prepared by the government’s cross-ministry asbestos working group, which identified steps the province and its agencies can take to further protect people and the environment from the dangers of asbestos.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral often found in construction materials, drywall, building insulation, car and truck brake pads and the natural environment. 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, according to the Ministry of Labour.
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, according to the ministry.