B.C. establishes cross-ministry working group on asbestos

THE Province announced on Wednesday that it has established a cross-ministry working group to ensure that British Columbians are adequately protected from the dangers of asbestos.

As the dangers of asbestos have become known over the years, governments, industry and others have taken steps to protect people from exposure to asbestos and to contain its impact on the environment, said the Province.

WorkSafeBC has done a lot of work with employers to ensure they are protecting their workers from asbestos, and has recently launched an awareness campaign for homeowners of the potential dangers during renovations. Progress has been made to raise awareness, establish more rigorous inspection and compliance efforts and expand enforcement capabilities.

However, since asbestos continues to be found in many industrial, commercial and residential building materials, and in motor vehicle parts and other industrial and consumer products, it remains a public health and environmental challenge that can impact British Columbians throughout the province.

The asbestos working group will take a broad approach and work collaboratively to identify, review and report on a range of issues, including worker safety, building renovation and abatement matters, environmental protection, and public health and awareness.

The new working group will rely on expertise from:

  • Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Responsible for Labour;
  • Ministry of Environment;
  • Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development;
  • Ministry of Natural Gas Development and Responsible for Housing;
  • Ministry of Health; and
  • WorkSafeBC.

The working group will engage with the federal government regarding Canada’s December 2016 announcement to ban asbestos and asbestos-containing products by 2018. Later this year, the working group will also engage in consultation with stakeholders and organizations that have submitted proposals on asbestos safety, and seek additional ideas from others interested in the safe management of asbestos.

The working group expects to report out to the minister of jobs, tourism and skills training and minister responsible for labour on the recommendations of the working group by the end of 2017.

Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour, said: “The Government of British Columbia supports Canada moving toward a national ban on asbestos by 2018, and we want to make sure we are doing all that we can to protect British Columbians and our environment from asbestos hazards. This working group will look at this issue from a cross-government perspective to ensure our number-one priority is protecting British Columbians from the dangers of asbestos, and will engage with important partners as the work progresses.”

Trevor Alexander, Senior Vice President, Operations, Worker and Employer Services, WorkSafeBC, said: “WorkSafeBC supports the cross-ministry working group and its collaborative and broad approach to this important safety issue. In our role as occupational health and safety regulator, WorkSafeBC officers have conducted more than 3,900 worksite asbestos-related inspections from 2013 to 2016 and issued 183 fines. WorkSafeBC’s mandate continues to be to consult with, educate and to motivate employers to be compliant with the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.”

Quick Facts:

  • Asbestos-related diseases are the leading cause of workplace deaths in British Columbia because of significant workplace exposures to asbestos 20, 30 or more years ago.
  • According to WorkSafeBC, from 2007 to 2016, there were over 600 accepted claims for worker deaths in B.C. related to asbestos exposures, with the majority of those workers dying before the age of 65 years.
  • WorkSafeBC preliminary stats for 2016 indicate asbestos exposure was the contributing factor in 64 work-related deaths, accounting for 75% of all occupational disease deaths and about 44% of all accepted deaths in the year.
  • Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that was used extensively in construction from the 1950s to 1990s due to its low cost, resistance to fire and insulating properties.
  • It is commonly present in spray-applied fireproofing, mechanical insulation, linoleum, floor tiles, drywall taping compound, vermiculite, cement board and tiles, cement pipes and textured decorative coating.