A national asbestos inventory has been made public and while the document could create job opportunities in the construction industry, safety must be the top priority, several stakeholders stated recently.
Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) developed and released the online list of crown-owned and leased buildings with a known presence of asbestos Oct. 3.
"Asbestos is a very deadly product, it is lurking in the buildings and it is easily disturbed," said Robert Blakely, Canadian operating officer, Canada’s Building Trades Unions in an email to the Daily Commercial News.
"People who work in government buildings or repair those buildings where it lurks are in dangerous workplaces. Our members work in Canada’s public buildings… in the very least they should be able to know before going to work whether they need to protect themselves and make decisions around whether to work there or not."
In early 2016, PSPC undertook a review of the use of asbestos in PSPC facilities to address health and safety concerns and concluded that alternative materials were available for use in construction and major rehabilitation projects. Based on that, as of April 1, 2016, the use of asbestos in PSPC’s new construction and major renovation projects was prohibited.
At the same time, it was also announced PSPC would develop an inventory of its buildings to identify those that contain asbestos. The inventory lists all the buildings owned or leased by the PSPC, their addresses, whether or not asbestos is present and if there is an asbestos management plan in place. There are over 2,180 properties on the list, of those, 716 are identified as having a known presence of asbestos.
For Blakely, the inventory will make public buildings and workplaces safer for everybody who goes there. "This is a very positive step, it ought not to be the final step," he said. "The goal here is a complete, total and utter ban on asbestos and its removal from every Canadian workplace and home and a legislated ban on its use, export, import or anything else. The ideas behind the registry, ‘informed choice’ and ‘right to know,’ are pretty fundamental for our people who come in as contractors to work on federal government renovations and additions."
The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) also commended the federal government for launching the inventory, adding, however, that more works needs to be done.
"I think the government acknowledges this is not a comprehensive list, it’s only a partial list," said Hassan Yussuff, president of the CLC. Other federal departments are expected to publish their own inventories within 12 months, he added.
"It’s a good first step but they need to complete the list… It’s an ongoing project for us and we’ve got many more parts yet to complete."
While the inventory raises awareness for workers and those who access the buildings, the CLC also wants the Canadian government to move forward with legislation outlining a comprehensive ban on the use, import and export of asbestos.
The CLC is also calling for a registry of workers who have been impacted by asbestos to "have a better appreciation of the damage this has done on human health in the country."
"The best information we have right now, which is provided by workers compensation boards across the country, is that there are 2,000 Canadians who die of asbestos-related disease each year in the country," said Yussuff. "That’s has been going up continuously now for many years and it’s going to keep rising because of the latency period in which people are impacted by exposure to asbestos."
There are still a lot of public and private buildings with asbestos and provinces and municipalities should follow the federal government’s move, Yussuff added.
"This will put some pressure on provincial governments, territorial governments to do the same thing in the near future," Yussuff stated.
Asbestos, used in residential and commercial development products, becomes toxic when it is disturbed, explained Yussuff. It has been linked to illnesses and cancers such as mesothelioma. Workers in the construction industry are often the hardest hit. Going forward, Yussuff said the inventory could create work for the construction industry but workers must be protected.
"If the government is aware that they are monitoring a building because it has asbestos and the fibres in that building are deteriorating much faster, I would hope that the government would employ the (construction) industry to do remediation of those buildings, to remove all the asbestos products and restore them accordingly," said Yusseff.
"Should the government bring in a contractor to do some work, every precaution should be made to ensure these workers are not exposed."
Patrick Dillon, business manager of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, said the government needs to stop ignoring the fact that there are buildings with asbestos — they have to be identified and investments have to be made to ensure they are safe. This needs to be done at the federal level, as well as the provincial level.
"The provincial government owns a lot of buildings in Ontario, some of them quite old," said Dillon.
"Ontario needs to identify — as should every province — what buildings have asbestos and have a plan for removing it."
He said companies need to know buildings contain asbestos before projects even start.
"If they have identified that there is asbestos in a building, that is necessary information for the contractor even before they bid the work, so that they know what the issues are that they’re going to have to address," he said.
"Finding out after you have a contract that there is asbestos you have to deal with is an unnecessary position to put the contractor and the workers in."
To see the national asbestos inventory, visit http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/biens-property/documents/invamiante-asbestosinv-eng.pdf.