BC Takes Steps Towards Safe Asbestos Handling

CBC Asbestos Abatement Workers will need Training and Certification

Asbestos abatement workers will need training, certification under proposed rules

Asbestos has caused 50% of workplace-related deaths since 2000, labour ministry reports

B.C. is introducing new safety rules for asbestos workers. The minister for labour says those rules will save lives. (Shutterstock/HikoPhotography)

B.C.’s labour minister says new legislation tightening rules for asbestos workers will save lives.

The provincial government introduced amendments to the Workers Compensation Act Wednesday that will require asbestos abatement contractors in B.C. to be licensed, and for workers and employers to take mandatory training courses and be certified.

Minister Harry Bains said asbestos has caused the deaths of 280 workers in the past five years. His ministry said in a statement that asbestos has caused 50 per cent of workplace-related deaths since 2000.

“Asbestos is a number one killer of workers in B.C.,” Bains said at the Legislature Wednesday.

“We are bringing these amendments to protect the health and safety of workers and workplaces, and allowing British Columbians to know that the workers and contractors working in their homes to handle asbestos are providing them with the quality of work to keep them safe and their families safe.”

Bains said details of the new rules will be worked out by WorkSafeBC.

The agency, according to the ministry statement, has found unsafe asbestos handling and disposal practices by contractors. It said many abatement workers lack formal training in safety protocols.

Asbestos was a widely-used material in many products, mostly for fire-proofing. It can be found in cement and plaster, building insulation, heating systems, building siding and car parts. It was widely used in construction before 1990 although wasn’t banned in Canada until 2018, with a few exemptions.

It is generally not a health risk if undisturbed, but when particles are inhaled, they can cause cancer and other diseases.

Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, was effusive about the new legislation.

“In a word, this is monumental,” Cronk said. “This has the potential to move B.C. from literally,  worst to first in terms of protecting the public and workers from future exposures to this deadly material.”

Cronk said he himself has been exposed to asbestos while working as an electrician in the 1980s and 1990s.

“It’s a lifetime of wondering, will it affect me? Will I escape this? Will it affect my ability to breathe? Will it take my life? No worker should have to face that.”