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Industry Special: First in Canada, BCCSA’s new online course for working with asbestos planned for mid-year launch

Industry Special: First in Canada, BCCSA’s new online course for working with asbestos planned for mid-year launch

Despite bans on the use of asbestos in construction, asbestos remains the leading cause of work-related deaths in British Columbia. That’s because legacy asbestos lingers and because asbestos-related conditions can take years to develop. As WorkSafe BC considers avenues to address the issue, BCCSA is taking a proactive approach to developing a new online asbestos training program that will empower its members — the first standardized training program of its kind in Canada.

M.J. Whitemarsh is project manager of the BCCSA Asbestos Project and was chief executive officer of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of BC. Mike Sully is the project lead. He’s executive vice president of On Side Restoration and the former president of the BC Association of Restoration Contractors, which amalgamated with the BCCSA in 2016.

Last year Mike McKenna, the executive director of the BCCSA suggested, Mike Sully engage a consultant and he gave me a call to discuss his ideas for asbestos education,” says Whitemarsh. “We agreed that this is something the construction industry needs. This course is being designed so that newcomers to the construction industry can understand the impact, implications and mitigation strategies of asbestos.  It will define competencies, provide training for those competencies, and highlight the rights and responsibilities of workers, owners and operators so that everyone can work in harmony in a safer way. Whatever approach WorkSafeBC takes to the issue of asbestos, this education project will support it.”

Sully notes that there are approximately 15,000 notices of project filed in BC each year for asbestos work.

“My guess is that there are closer to 125,000 projects each year that involve disturbing asbestos,” he says. “I believe the majority of those projects are initiated because the people involved lack the knowledge to proceed safely. If you don’t know about asbestos, you won’t file a notice of project. If you’re empowered with better education, this wouldn’t be happening as often.”

Course content is being developed by a working group that includes subject matter experts from industry, WorkSafeBC and organized labour.

“We’ve already defined competencies as outlined under BC health and safety regulations and now we’re building a curriculum,” says Sully.

The course will be offered online in modules, with the possibility of a virtual classroom component. The first modules will begin with basic competencies such as asbestos awareness. Other modules would cover more complex asbestos education for those involved directly in asbestos mitigation and subjects such as writing asbestos safe work practices and risk assessments, completing notices of projects and supervising workers. One module will provide a regulatory context for the province. The BCCSA hopes to see the first modules go live in mid-2020.

“It is our hope that there will be a possibility of offering this program across Canada,” says Sully. “You would need to change only the regulatory module from province to province.”

Asbestos course development is being underwritten by the BCCSA’s Research, Development & Opportunity fund, derived from profits generated by the organization’s training programs.

“We hope to see the initiative delivered to the BC construction industry for as close to free as possible,” says Sully. “WorkSafeBC says that it costs them $54 million per year to deal with asbestos-related injury and illness. If we can demonstrate that people are completing our training program and that it’s putting a dent in those numbers, perhaps we could see that funding put in place.”

This content is an Industry Special by BCCSA in collaboration with ConstructConnect™ Media. To learn more about BCCSA, visit

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