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What is asbestos?

Asbestos refers to a group of naturally occurring minerals once used widely in many building materials. Chrysotile is the most common form of asbestos found in Ontario.

The improper handling of asbestos-containing products can release harmful amounts of fibre into the air. The inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibres can cause serious illnesses, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. The time period between exposure and the development of asbestos-related disease can range from 15 to 55 years.

Where is asbestos found?

Asbestos was useful in hundreds of applications due to its strength, insulation properties, ability to withstand high temperatures and resistance to many chemicals. Most structures built between 1930 and 1982 may contain building materials having substantial amounts of asbestos.

Asbestos products are classified as friable—meaning easily crumbled or loose in composition—or non-friable—meaning more durable because they are held together by a binder such as cement, vinyl or asphalt. Friable materials are more hazardous than non-friable because fibres can become airborne more easily.

Friable materials are typically found in sprayed-on fireproofing, pipe and boiler insulation, loose fill insulation, and vermiculite insulation. Non-friable materials can be found in asbestos cement products, acoustical plaster and tiles, vinyl asbestos products, roofing felts and shingles, asphalt/asbestos limpet spray, drywall joint-filling compound, coatings and mastics, gaskets and refractory brick.

What the law says

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out the rights and duties of all parties in the workplace and establishes procedures for dealing with workplace hazards. Asbestos is a designated substance under the OHSA. Section 30 of the OHSA requires project owners to determine whether any designated substances are present at a project site and if so, to take proper precautions to protect workers.

Regulation 278/05 – Asbestos on Construction Projects and in Buildings and Repair Operations categorizes asbestos-related activity into one of three types: Type 1, Type 2, or Type 3. The regulation covers safe work procedures and types of respiratory protection required for workers doing each type of asbestos work. Regulation 833 – Control of Exposure to Biological or Chemical Agents sets out occupational exposure limits (OELs) for asbestos fibres in the air.

The disposal of asbestos is strictly regulated by the Environmental Protection Act. Asbestos waste must be disposed of at a landfill specifically approved and equipped to handle it. The transportation of asbestos-containing waste from the site of the asbestos abatement project to the landfill is regulated by the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act.

How asbestos can affect your business

From 1997 to 2006, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) approved 300 occupational disease fatality claims—the vast majority of them (approximately 85 per cent) likely due to asbestos exposure. Occupations at particular risk include plumbers/pipe fitters, insulators, labourers, and electricians. Although many of these diseases are from exposure to asbestos many years ago, workers are still at risk of exposure today. As a result, the Ministry of Labour has issued many stop work orders and charges to owners and constructors resulting in significant delays and fines.

What can you do?

For any demolition, alteration or repair projects, the owner must complete a report indicating whether any material that is likely to be handled, dealt with, disturbed, or removed contains asbestos. Workers who may encounter asbestos must be trained on asbestos hazards and controls and must be fitted with the appropriate respirator as part of a complete respiratory protection program. In addition, all workers performing Type 3 operations—and the supervisors of these workers—must be certified by successfully completing the Asbestos Abatement Worker or Supervisor course.

If suspicious material is encountered that may contain asbestos, which was not referred to in the owner’s asbestos report, the following steps should be taken

  • Stop all work in the area
  • Evacuate and isolate the area
  • Notify the constructor or contractor (if you are the constructor, you must notify, orally and in writing, the Ministry of Labour, owner, contractors and joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative)
  • Have the material tested to determine its content before work restarts