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Union Calls for Licence System for Asbestos Removal Companies

Jenelle Schneider - Vancouver Sun, December 9, 2015

The B.C. Insulators Union says the provincial government should implement mandatory licensing for asbestos removal companies as a way to better regulate the industry.

The idea is that companies that violate the rules would have their licences suspended or removed and therefore would not be able to continue in business.

The province, through its chief workplace safety agency, WorkSafeBC, largely relies on inspections, fines and stop-work orders to keep companies that violate rules in line. While that strategy works for many companies, a 2013 investigation by The Vancouver Sun found that one asbestos removal firm alone had been issued more than 200 orders by WorkSafeBC for asbestos-removal violations.

B.C. Insulators Union business manager Lee Loftus said asbestos exposure is both a workplace and public-safety issue.

“We need to get the government to understand this isn’t just a workplace matter. If they do a demolition in a building beside where you reside, the asbestos and the lead contaminant could end up in your backyard,” said Loftus.

The Hazardous Materials Association — which represents contractors — has also called for licensing or certification of asbestos removal companies.

The B.C. Liberal government recently passed new laws that give WorkSafeBC more enforcement tools to shut down workplaces, and enhanced abilities to pursue court injunctions to stop repeat offenders.

“We are diligently exercising our authority through increased site inspections and where required, the application of financial penalties,” said WorkSafeBC spokesman Scott McCloy.

In the past three years, more than 120 fines have been issued for asbestos-related violations.

Workplace deaths caused by asbestos-related diseases such as forms of lung cancer are on the rise, according to WorkSafeBC statistics. Last year asbestos-related diseases accounted for 77 deaths, the leading cause of the 173 deaths among workers that year.

In the five-year period between 2010 and 2014, on average 65 workers died each year from asbestos-related diseases. That was up from 51 and 42 in the previous two five-year periods. It can take decades for the health effects of asbestos to cause serious illness and disease.

While asbestos was an issue at industrial sites, such as shipyards, decades ago, exposure now largely takes place during demolition or renovation of older homes, where the substance can be found in drywall compound, loose insulation, vinyl tiles and roof shingles.

Before a house is demolished, the materials are supposed to be tested, and if found to contain asbestos, removed using special procedures to contain and bag the material.

Loftus noted that jurisdictions such as Washington State have a mandatory licensing system for asbestos removal companies.

The union, which represents 450 workers, many of whom are involved in asbestos removal, also called on municipalities to not issue demolition permits until thorough hazardous waste assessments have been carried out to identify asbestos containing materials. Only some Lower Mainland communities — including Vancouver — require the assessments.

You can see the original article in the online Vancouver Sun here.