While airborne asbestos fibre has been long recognized as a lethal hazard, a recently announced federal ban on importing and using products containing asbestos has brought the substance back into the headlines - for good reason. Asbestos exposure is the number one cause of occupational cancer, which has surpassed injuries as the leading cause of work-related deaths in Canada.1
Although the ban won't take effect until 2018, health and safety experts say don't wait. If you're installing or replacing products that may contain asbestos, such as imported aftermarket brake pads, or planning a construction project or renovation, take precautions now.
More about asbestos
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is resistant to heat, fire and wear. It was once used widely in building materials and friction-resistant mechanical parts, such as vehicle brake linings, disc brake pads and clutch facings. Workers at particular risk include auto and heavy equipment brake mechanics, labourers, electricians, plumbers and pipe fitters, and insulators.
Although the manufacture and use of asbestos-containing building products in Ontario stopped in the 1980s,
- brake pads and linings containing asbestos are still being imported into Canada - more than $100 million worth between 2005 and 20152.
- older buildings may still contain these products. They pose no significant health risk if the asbestos is tightly bound in the original product, in good condition, sealed behind walls and flooring, and left undisturbed. However, asbestos may become airborne if the material's protective outside layer begins to disintegrate, or buildings are renovated or demolished.
Undertaking any building demolition, alteration or repair projects?
If so, the project owner's first step is to complete and provide to the contractor a report indicating whether workers are likely to handle, deal with, disturb, or remove any material that may contain asbestos or other designated substances. This also applies to building tenants undertaking a project. Find out more about this and other workplace requirements involving asbestos in this Ministry of Labour resource: Asbestos: FAQ.
Still servicing vehicles that may contain asbestos products?
Although new vehicles are unlikely to contain these products, a risk of exposure remains with older vehicles, and with the installation or removal of aftermarket products such as imported brake pads and linings that may contain asbestos.
John Norris, executive director of Collision Industry Information Assistance, warns that these products often have no hazard identification on them. "Auto shops pop them on without necessarily understanding what's in that product," he says. Norris acknowledges they cost less, but not enough to risk ruining your health. "Every auto shop has access to proper brake pads."
How we can help
The first step is to find out what you need to know. These online resources are a good start:
1 "Trends in compensation for deaths from occupational cancer in Canada: a descriptive study" CMAJ Open
2 ""Automotive recyclers call for federal action to eliminate import and use of asbestos brake pads in Canada", a statement published by the Automotive Recyclers of Canada in April 2016