WorkSafeBC cracks down on home demos and renos over asbestos concerns

VANCOUVER — Work safety officials say they are stepping up enforcement of home renovations in B.C. over concerns about asbestos after a high number of contractors were caught trying to cut corners last year.

Starting this month, WorkSafeBC says prevention officers will be increasing inspections at residential demolition and renovation sites to ensure contractors are adhering to health and safety laws when identifying and removing asbestos.

WorkSafeBC conducted 210 site inspections last year and found 43 per cent of hazardous material surveys done by contractors were inadequate, the agency said Tuesday. WorkSafeBC officers wrote 257 orders for hazardous materials violations and imposed 20 penalties.

Al Johnson, vice-president of prevention services at WorkSafeBC, said he didn’t have a number for how many more inspections there would be, but said they will be adding officers dedicated to inspecting residential renovations and demolitions.

“We’re making this a priority and our focus,” he said. “Most of the activity will take place in the Lower Mainland, but it is also a provincial initiative.”

If there is asbestos in a building, it is required by provincial law that it be identified; however some contractors, in trying to compete for business, won’t identify all the areas that potentially have asbestos so they can put in a lower bid for the contract, Johnson said. He added that “although it’s hard to believe” some contractors have also claimed they didn’t know asbestos may have been in the building.

Buildings constructed before the late 1980s contained construction materials with asbestos such as insulation, floor tiles, cement pipes, drywall, linoleum and spray applied fire proofing.

“They are not doing complete surveys. They might identify one wall … but what about the other walls? What about the floor tile, duct material, taping compounds, installation? We need them to do a thorough risk assessment.”

Penalties vary depending on payroll, so larger companies pay more for infractions. They can range from $1,000 up to $30,000.

Johnson said 77 workers died in 2014 from asbestos-related diseases. “While asbestos does not pose a health risk when left undisturbed, preventable exposures can cause fatal lung diseases with symptoms developing many years later,” he said.

WorkSafeBC says hundreds of houses are demolished and renovated every month in B.C. with an increase over the summer months.

Five B.C. municipalities: Coquitlam, Vancouver, Saanich, Nanaimo and Port Coquitlam are working with WorkSafeBC and require those seeking demolition permits to provide results of an adequate hazardous material survey before issuing a permit.

Last month, Health Canada made changes to the way it describes the health risks associated with asbestos exposure. Chrysotile asbestos, mined in Canada and exported until the last operation in Quebec went bankrupt, used to be referred to on the department’s website as being less dangerous than other forms of the mineral.

But that section was removed in the last month, as was a reference to the risks associated with inhaling “significant quantities” of asbestos fibres.

The website now states “asbestos, if inhaled, can cause cancer and other diseases.”

The World Health Organization maintains all types of asbestos can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis.

BY TIFFANY CRAWFORD, VANCOUVER SUN JULY 14, 2015

ticrawford@vancouversun.com

With files from The Canadian Press

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