WorkSafeBC urges contractors not to ‘risk it’ with asbestos

Journal of Commerce  | OH&S  | by RUSSELL HIXSON | 

WorkSafeBC is focusing its latest campaign on warning contractors about the danger asbestos poses to their workers and businesses. Asbestos-abatement, demolition and general contracts are all the subject of the new mailer campaign urging them to keep workers safe. More than 15,000 mailers have been sent out asking contractors, “Why risk it?”

Al Johnson, vice-president of prevention services with WorkSafeBC, explained building contractors are not only risking their workers’ health but the future of their businesses.

“You can get a bad rap when you go to bid on a job,” said Johnson. “We want to make sure that contractors understand, so why risk it.”

The regulatory consequences of contractors not identifying asbestos properly, not removing it safely and not following safe work procedures include stop-work orders and fines. This year to date, WorkSafeBC has issued more asbestos-related stop-work orders and fines than in all of 2016 — resulting in lost hours, blown deadlines and cancelled projects.

Johnson said this year WorkSafeBC has issued 450 orders, 60 were to stop work.

“That leads to project delays and additional costs,” said Johnson, adding WorkSafeBC has also handed out 30 penalties so far this year. “We are not trying to threaten anyone. We want to catch people doing things right. We take it seriously and want everyone to take it seriously as well.”

In homes built before 1990, asbestos can potentially be found in more than 3,000 building materials. Asbestos can be released into the air when these building materials are drilled, sawed, sanded or broken up during a renovation or demolition.

Workers can breathe in asbestos fibres if they are not protected. Breathing in enough asbestos can result in permanent damage to the lungs, or death. In the 10 years from 2007 to 2016, 605 B.C. workers died from asbestos-related diseases.

On a national scale, the government has undergone a major shift on asbestos.

Last month, Patty Hajdu, minister of employment, workforce development and labour, announced that as part of the federal government’s comprehensive ban on asbestos, it is enhancing the Canada Labour Code for workers by lowering exposure to airborne chrysotile asbestos to as close to zero as possible.

The new regulatory provisions include an asbestos exposure management program, which requires employers to provide education and training for employees involved in asbestos-related work activities such as the handling, removal, repair or disturbance of asbestos-containing materials that could expose employees in the workplace.

According to WorkSafeBC records, the most recent asbestos-related penalty was issued to Hiltec Demolition for $20,000. The penalty relates to work done at a two-storey house slated for demolition.

Records show a hazardous materials survey conducted for the site confirmed the presence of asbestos-containing materials throughout the house, including drywall joint compound and other materials.

WorkSafeBC observed four workers, one of whom was a supervisor, exiting the house in their street clothes and without any personal protective equipment. Uncontained drywall debris was visible in the house as well as in the back of the firm’s vehicle. WorkSafeBC issued a stop-work order for the work site and a stop-use order for the vehicle. Inspectors called it “a repeated and high-risk violation.”