B.C. is looking to protect workers and the public from asbestos risks by increasing regulations for asbestos work.
The new safety requirements would apply to contractors, employers and workers who undertake asbestos abatement work.
The proposed changes would require asbestos abatement contractors to be licensed by WorkSafeBC to operate in the province. Employers, workers and contractors who perform asbestos abatement work would have to be certified through a mandatory safety training process that would be authorized by WorkSafeBC.
“The proposed amendments would help strengthen the existing regulatory requirements for asbestos abatement work,” said the province in a press release. “All contractors in good standing would be listed on a publicly accessible registry so that building owners can ensure they are hiring a qualified company with trained workers.”
The proposed amendments would also strengthen WorkSafeBC’s enforcement tools and grant the authority to deny, cancel or suspend licences of non-compliant contractors.
The province’s insulator workers and unions have spent years urging the province to take action on asbestos risks.
“It’s certainly something we have been advocating for some time,” said Neil Munro, BC Insulators Local 118 business manager. “It’s long past due and the fact that the government is seeking public feedback is an important step in the right direction.”
According to a 2018 report, from 2008 to 2017 there were 617 worker deaths in B.C. related to asbestos exposures, with the majority of those workers dying before the age of 65.
In 2017, 70 B.C. workers died from asbestos-related illnesses.
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. Even today workers continue to be exposed.
Munro noted that these deaths are just the tip of the iceberg as asbestos exposure impacts many others, include the families of those workers who may get exposed just by washing their work clothes.
“It’s not just workers,” said Munro. “It’s literally everybody. It has an enormous impact and we are looking forward to these next steps.”
The province’s report estimates potentially 20 per cent of mesothelioma cases may be related to non-occupational exposure.
Munro noted while there are good contractors and workers who do what is required to safely deal with asbestos, there have been many significant cases of careless ones.
He cited the case of Mike Singh and his company Seattle Environmental Consulting.
Officials found the company violated workplace safety laws dozens of times at 11 worksites around the Metro Vancouver area between 2013 and 2017.
Singh was sentenced to a year of probation and six weeks house arrest. He and his company were forever banned from doing asbestos abatement work.
In 2018, WorkSafeBC prevention officers conducted 1,577 asbestos inspections, resulting in 764 compliance orders.
The province is asking B.C. residents, workers, employers, contractors and building and homeowners to give feedback on the proposed changes.
The consultation will be open from until Friday, Feb. 11. To participate, visit https://engage.gov.bc.ca/govtogetherbc/consultation/asbestos-abatement-licensing-and-training
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