(Canadian OH&S News) — Saskatchewan’s government authority for occupational health and safety had to face a work-related safety crisis of its own from Feb. 23 to 24, when a building that houses some of its offices was evacuated over an asbestos scare.
The Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, which employs about 90 people on the third, fourth and sixth floors of a building at 1870 Albert Street in Regina, brought in a plumbing contractor on Feb. 19 after a leak in a sixth-floor ceiling water pipe was found at about noon that day, according to Ray Anthony, an executive director with the Ministry’s oh&s division. The possibility of an asbestos presence was raised after the contractor’s employees cut out a section of an orange concrete rainwater pipe in the process of repairing the leak.
“Later on in the afternoon, one of our hygienists discovered this piece of pipe in the stairwell and asked these plumbing contractors if they had checked for asbestos,” said Anthony, “and they said, well no, they hadn’t, they had been told that there was no asbestos in the building.”
A test on the material came back positive for asbestos late on Feb. 22, although the Ministry management did not know about it until the following morning. “So we knew that they hadn’t followed proper precautions,” Anthony added, referring to the plumbers.
The building was evacuated immediately, due to uncertainty about the air quality, and the Ministry brought in an independent third party to test the air for asbestos fibres.
“We had basically all the floors cleaned up, and we did testing before and after, all of which were negative for asbestos fibres,” said Anthony. “It was an incident, and that’s the way we treated it.”
After all of the offices were cleaned up and vacuumed according to proper procedures, the building was declared safe and everybody returned to work at about noon on Feb. 24.
“Basically, we’re just trying to follow best practice,” Anthony added.
Since Nov. 2013, Saskatchewan has maintained an official public registry of government-owned buildings — including schools, healthcare facilities and other buildings owned by provincial government organizations — indicating whether they contain asbestos. The Saskatchewan Asbestos Registry resulted from the passing of The Public Health Amendment Act, or Howard’s Law, on April 18 of that year (COHSN, Nov. 18, 2013). Ironically, the registry does not cover 1870 Albert Street, since the building is privately owned.
“We don’t own this building,” said Anthony. “We just rent here.”
The Saskatchewan government does own more than 500 buildings around the province, he explained, “and those are registered, and the asbestos is mapped and listed in them under the registry.”
The oh&s division of the Ministry has an office on the Albert Street building’s sixth floor, where the apparently contaminated pipe was located.