Asbestos is the top killer of construction workers in B.C., yet companies continue to ignore safety measures that could protect their workers.
So, WorkSafeBC is ramping up its efforts to clamp down on contractors.
Something has to get through to employers, they say. They’ve been working hard to hand out consequences to companies that don’t follow the rules.
Already this year, they’ve issued more asbestos-related stop-work orders and fines than in all of 2016.
While the effects of asbestos aren’t seen in workers for years, those stop-work orders hit companies in the pocketbook, resulting in lost hours, missed construction deadlines, and even cancelled projects.
The end goal is to stop exposing construction and demolition workers to the deadly substance asbestos. It can be potentially found in more than 3,000 building materials in homes built before 1990. While it’s generally considered to be safe if left undisturbed, it is released into the air when the materials are drilled, sawed, sanded or broken up during renos or demos.
Workers can breathe in asbestos fibres if they are not protected.
If workers breathe in enough asbestos, their lungs can be permanently damaged or result in death.
There is a long latency period (10 to 40 years on average) between the time a worker breathes in asbestos fibres and when a disease can develop. WorkSafeBC says that in the 10 years from 2007 to 2016, 605 B.C. workers have died from asbestos-related diseases.
According to Al Johnson, vice-president of prevention services, some building contractors are not only risking their workers’ health but risking the future of their businesses. If word gets out that a contractor has cut corners and doesn’t take asbestos seriously, it can do significant harm to their professional reputation.
They’ve sent out a direct mailer to 14,500 construction contractors, to drive home the message. They’ve also created a video for employees and employers to spread awareness of the risks, called Asbestos: Why Risk It?
It tells construction employers: “Identify asbestos properly, remove it safely and follow safe work procedures. Do your job, do it right, and protect everyone from the dangers of asbestos.”
They’ve also created a video to explain what asbestos is and where it can lurking in older homes.
WorkSafeBC publishes an entire toolkit for employers regarding asbestos abatement, at their website www.worksafebc.com/asbestos. They have been sounding the alarm on asbestos for the past few years now, following a marked surge in asbestos-related diseases and deaths in older workers.