OHS Canada Magazine

Homeowners have responsibility to protect workers from asbestos exposure: WorkSafeBC


October 25, 2022
By OHS Canada

Asbestos Construction WorkSafeBC

(Stanislav/Adobe Stock)

While asbestos-related diseases are preventable, asbestos exposure remains the leading cause of work-related deaths in British Columbia.

With that in mind, WorkSafeBC has issued a reminder to homeowners of their responsibility to keep workers safe during demolition and renovation projects.

“Homeowners must get their homes tested for asbestos before renovation or demolition work begins,” said Suzana Prpic, senior prevention manager at WorkSafeBC. “While there are monetary costs associated with asbestos surveying and safe abatement, the human cost of not doing this is far greater.”

Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause serious health problems including permanent lung damage, lung diseases, and terminal cancer. Most asbestos-related diseases have a 20–50-year latency period before they become fatal. In the last decade, WorkSafeBC said it has accepted more than 1,100 claims for workers who were killed by occupational disease related to asbestos exposure.

Homeowner responsibilities

Prior to beginning a demolition or renovation, homeowners must hire a qualified testing company or asbestos surveyor to identify if asbestos containing materials (ACMs) will be disturbed during the work. If ACMs are found, homeowners must then hire a qualified asbestos abatement contractor to remove and dispose of the materials.

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“Asbestos is only harmful when materials containing asbestos are disturbed,” said Prpic. “Often however, ACMs are hiding in plain sight—in materials like flooring, tiles, shingles, and light fixtures. That is why it is critical homeowners hire the right experts who know where to look for it, and how to safely remove it.”

If a homeowner or renter is hiring worker(s) to work at their personal residence, they may also be required to register with WorkSafeBC, depending on the nature of work and the length of time a project will take. Information on registration requirements can be found on worksafebc.com.

How common is asbestos in homes?

ACMs can be found in more than 3,000 pre-1990s building materials, such as vinyl and linoleum flooring, stucco, insulation, shingles, gypsum board filling compound, incandescent light fixture backings, and deck under-sheeting, the agency said.

“There are over 700,000 homes in B.C. built before 1990, meaning that it’s highly likely that some parts of these homes will contain materials made with asbestos,” says Prpic.

In Greater Vancouver, 32 per cent of homes were built before 1990.

Key Facts: Asbestos related disease

  • Between 2002-2021, there were 1,112 accepted workplace deaths related to asbestos.
  • Most workers diagnosed with asbestos-related disease were male (95 per cent).
  • Of the workers who died from asbestos-related illness, 59 per cent were of between ages of 71-85 at the time of death, often having been exposed decades before.
  • Asbestos-related diseases are caused by the inhalation of asbestos. Some examples of asbestos-related diseases are mesothelioma, lung cancer, diffuse pleural thickening or fibrosis, asbestosis, benign pleural effusion, larynx or pharynx cancer, and gastro-intestinal cancer. These are recognized as occupational diseases under Schedule B of the Workers Compensation Act.
  • Mesothelioma is the only cancer caused almost exclusively by asbestos. Malignant mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive form of cancer. Typically, patients survive approximately one year after diagnosis.

Resources

WorkSafeBC has a number of resources to help:

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