Silent, invisible killer still out there

Monday, September 14, 2015

Across Canada, April 28 has been designated the Day of Mourning. It’s a day when workers, families, employers, and others come together at ceremonies to remember those who have lost their lives to injury or disease on the job. Last year, 175 B.C. workers died, and now, 175 families mourn their loved ones who didn’t come home.

In the construction industry, we’re once again reminded of a sobering fact that occupational disease continues to be the top cause of workplace death, taking the lives of innocent workers, who often, don’t even know they’ve been exposed until its too late.

You may have heard people say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Well, in the case of asbestos, the opposite is true: what you don’t know can actually kill you—slowly and painfully. It sounds morbid and isn’t probably on your list of favourite topics to discuss. But that’s the thing. Because it isn’t talked about, people still know very little about how to protect themselves, leaving them vulnerable to certain disease and death.

Since the year 2000, more workers in B.C. have died from asbestos-related disease than any other workplace injury. The silent, tiny, asbestos fibres are inhaled and get lodged in lung tissue and over time, can cause scar tissue to form in the lungs, resulting in irreversible damage that can lead to mesothelioma, asbestosis, and numerous other cancers.

Most buildings pre-dating 1990, including homes, likely have some asbestos material in them. That’s a lot of potentially dangerous workplaces, given that asbestos fibres become airborne easily, are light enough to stay in the air a long time, and can be inhaled without you knowing. It’s in your best interest to be informed and make sure you’re protected.

It can take years for the full impact of asbestos to take hold, so those suffering from asbestos-related diseases tend to be older workers. Although you may be inclined to assume that it’s a hazard only mature workers need to be concerned with, the truth is that workers who are now dying from these diseases were much younger when they were first exposed.

A real area of concern is in the home and commercial renovation sectors, where many of the new exposures can take place. Your employers and the building owners onsite are responsible for getting hazardous materials surveys done by a qualified surveyor to determine if there’s asbestos on your worksite. If asbestos is detected it must be removed by a qualified trained remover. If you suspect asbestos might be present at your worksite, inform your site supervisor immediately and don’t enter the site until a full survey has been completed.

As part of WorkSafeBC’s 2015 High Risk Strategy, a team of officers will once again focus on the renovation and demolition industry. They’ll be working with your supervisor and employers to ensure the proper surveys have been completed and proper procedures are in place.

To help explain the dangers behind asbestos exposure, we’ve created new videos to outline the risks and what you can do to protect yourself if you’re a worker, contractor, or homeowner. For more information on asbestos, check out the following resources on

• Safe Work Practices for Handling Asbestos booklet

• 10 Steps to Compliance with asbestos abatement requirements of section 20.112 for a pre-1990 house/building demolition

• Construction Toolbox Meeting  Guides: Health Hazards of Asbestos (Meeting Guide #TG 07- 26), Asbestos Removal (Meeting Guide # TG 07-27)

We all have a responsibility to keep our workplaces safe year-round and to be sure everyone goes home safe. Don’t let this silent killer decide your fate. If we all commit to building a culture where health and safety is the priority, and we’re all encouraged to make a contribution, we can work to make fatalities and workplace incidents a thing of the past. 

Please let me know what you think of this or any construction safety issue. Call me at 604-214-6989 from the Lower Mainland, toll-free elsewhere to 1-888- 621-7233. Or email [email protected] com. I’d like to hear from you.

By Don Schouten, manager of construction, Industry and Labour Services, WorkSafeBC

For More Information: 

Contact the BC Building Trades office
(778) 397-2220

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