Asbestos was commonly used for insulating buildings and homes against cold weather and noise. Due to its heat and fire resistant characteristics, it was also a popular fireproofing material used in the early 1900s. In most commercial forms, asbestos looks like attic insulation—a ball of thick fuzz. The construction industry has, and some continue, to use asbestos in products. If you work in a building built before 1990, it is likely that some parts of it will contain asbestos.
Renovating or demolishing houses containing asbestos products can release asbestos fibres, which are extremely fine and can stay airborne for hours. Inhaling asbestos fibres may cause serious health problems, including lung disease and cancer.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the generic name for several naturally occurring fibrous mineral silicates: chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, actinolite, anthophyllite and tremolite.
What are the health risks of exposure to asbestos?
Due to their shape and dimensions some airborne asbestos fibres can be inhaled and reach the lungs. The lung tissue can trap them and it is difficult for the body to clear the fibres. Fibres lodged in the lungs may lead to lung scarring and excessive development of fibrous tissue (pneumoconiosis). This tissue may affect the normal functions of the lungs by reducing their capacity to exchange air. There is enough evidence that exposure to asbestos leads to even more serious consequences such as cancer and malignant mesothelioma. Smokers exposed to asbestos have an increased likelihood of developing lung cancer than non-smokers. The health effects of exposure to asbestos are latent; they become evident after years (15 to 40 years) from the initial exposure.
What are the sources of asbestos?
- Asbestos cement pipes,
- Wallboard and joint compound,
- Siding and roofing,
- Vinyl and asphalt flooring, including backing, mastics,
- Acoustic or decorative wall and ceiling plaster, including paints, spackles, coatings, ceiling tiles, lay-in panels,
- Thermal insulation, including spray-applied, blown-in, boiler lagging and gaskets, breaching, pipe wrap, tank and vessel coverings,
- Fireproofing material, including blankets, curtains, countertops, gloves, electrical wiring, insulation, cloth, structural insulation,
- Flexible fabric firestops, duct connections and insulation,
- Packing materials, Gaskets, Felts,
- Caulking, putties, joint compounds, adhesives,
- Interior surfaces of ductwork in buildings where there was past airborne contamination with asbestos fibres,
- Car and truck brake pads, and
- Vehicle transmission components, such as clutches.
What are the duties of employers, contractors and owners to protect the health of the workers exposed to asbestos?
The Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety legislation outlines preventive and protective requirements specific for workplaces where there is the likelihood of workers’ exposure to asbestos dust.
Construction workers may be exposed to asbestos dust while undertaking different asbestos processes.
Employers, contractors, and owners all have responsibilities in ensuring that exposure to asbestos is prevented or minimized in the workplace.
Employers, contractors and owners must:
- Not install crocidolite or mixtures containing crocidolite, or spray asbestos-containing materials.
- Make sure that a competent person identifies all asbestos-containing materials and all materials likely to contain asbestos, as well as all materials likely to contain asbestos that are damaged and may release asbestos into the air.
- Give notice to the division not later than 14 days before beginning a high-risk asbestos process.
- Maintain a written record of the inventory of materials containing or likely to contain asbestos. This inventory includes its location, characteristics, and accessibility. The inventory must be updated each time an asbestos material is removed or added to the place of employment and a copy of the record made readily available to the Occupational Health Committee (OHC), the representative, and the workers.
- Ensure that all materials containing asbestos are labelled as asbestos and their presence and location are indicated by placards or on plans and maps containing warnings regarding the health risks of asbestos inhalation.
- Provide all employers, contractors, or self-employed persons who may be at risk from an asbestos process, the information about the presence, characteristics, and location of the asbestos-containing, or likely to contain materials.
- Inspect regularly all friable asbestos-containing materials and all sprayed-on asbestos surfaces to ensure that they are in good condition and not likely to release in the air any asbestos dust.
- Ensure that all friable asbestos-containing materials and all sprayed-on asbestos surfaces are inspected at least annually by a competent person; a written record of the annual inspection is kept, and a copy is made available to the workers.
- Ensure that all asbestos surfaces are maintained in good condition, and, when needed, the surfaces are repaired immediately.
- Make sure that a ventilation system used to remove asbestos dust is equipped with a HEPA filter, is inspected and maintained regularly, and certified by a competent person at least annually.
- Ensure that, where effective local ventilation is not used, each worker who may be exposed to asbestos during an asbestos process is provided with, and uses adequate personal protective equipment, that includes: ◦Respirator appropriate for the level of risk of the asbestos process; and
- Protective clothing that can be disposed of with asbestos waste after use, or can be kept, maintained, and cleaned, in a safe manner each time it is used.
Employers and contractors have additional responsibilities
Where asbestos processes are undertaken and asbestos waste is produced, as the employer or contractor, you must:
- Make sure that the process is conducted in such a manner that the release of asbestos dust in the air is prevented as much as reasonably practicable.
- Develop and implement an asbestos control plan that protects the workers from asbestos exposure in the event of dispersal of asbestos. Make available a copy of this plan to the workers.
- Make sure that the area where activities that may release asbestos are performed is effectively isolated or enclosed, and is identified by a warning notice indicating that asbestos work is in progress.
- Make sure that asbestos-containing materials are placed in receptacles impervious to asbestos, the receptacles are clearly labelled “Asbestos” and are handled and transported in a way that does not damage them.
- Make sure that asbestos waste or dust is cleaned promptly, and at least once per day, by effective vacuum cleaning equipment equipped with HEPA filter or by wet methods.
- Make sure that the workers involved in the disposal of the asbestos waste are trained in the safe handling and disposal methods.
- Make sure that an area where a high-risk asbestos process has been completed is accessed without an approved respirator, only when: a competent person verifies that there are no visible signs of debris, and
- The concentration of fibres in the air is less than 0.01 fibres per cubic centimetre of air.
Where the workers are going to be employed in an asbestos process and they may be exposed to asbestos dust, the employers must:
- Warn the workers about all the health risks and conditions that may aggravate the risk of injury.
- Provide training in safe handling of asbestos appropriate to the level of risk to which the worker will be exposed.
- Make sure that no worker works in an asbestos process before he/she has completed the training.
- Arrange for the periodical medical examination of workers who are regularly involved in an asbestos process.
Note: Workers must consent to the examinations and must be reimbursed for the expenses they incur and the off-work time they may need for the examination.
What are the employees’ responsibilities?
As an employee:
- Follow the safe work practices and procedures that comply with the regulatory requirements.
- Use the personal protective equipment provided by the employer, and maintain the equipment in good condition.
After the Ban: The Continuing Impact of Asbestos and the Need for Prevention: Dr. Paul Demers of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre speaking on asbestos and occupational cancers and the ongoing need for prevention. This discussion took place at The University of Regina.
Ask the SCSA Executive Series: Asbestos: - To address the need for improved information and awareness on Asbestos, the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA) hosted an online Asbestos Awareness Panel on June 2, 2020.
The Burden of Occupational Cancer in Canada: A presentation from Dr. Paul Demers at the University of Regina.
Asbestos Awareness: Understanding the Risk online course presented by SCSA in partnership with CCOHS and Worksafe Saskatchewan.
SCSA Tool Box Talk
- Resources from CCOHS
- Asbestos in Saskatchewan from the Government of Saskatchewan
- Worksafe Saskatchewan's Asbestos tools, links and resources
- Pleural Mesothelioma Centre
- Asbestos and Mesothelioma in Canada
- Asbestosis cancer information and support
- SCSA Asbestos Questions
- Companies or individuals who require the assistance of a qualified laboratory or contractor to identify or remove Asbestos, can consult this list of Occupational Hygiene Consultants and Labs.
- Abestos from CAREX Canada
- For more resources on occupational diseases and cancers please visit the links outlined in this collection.