Canada knows asbestos all too well.
The country was one of the world’s main producers of the naturally occurring carcinogenic mineral. Its relationship with asbestos was so intimate that a small, former mining town in Quebec is named after asbestos.
Asbestos remains the leading cause of workplace-related death in Canada. An estimated 150,000 Canadians are exposed to asbestos at work, mainly in the construction and trade industries.
Most asbestos-related diseases have a long latency period, or the amount of time between first exposure to asbestos and the start of symptoms. The number of deaths related to mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure, increased by 60 percent between 2000 and 2012.
Because of the latency period and Canada’s long history with asbestos, experts expect those numbers to continue to grow.
Canadian lawmakers recently made an important first step in combatting the threat of asbestos: Announcing a commitment to ban its use by 2018. The comprehensive ban is a longtime coming, and it covers the manufacture of asbestos-containing products as well as imports of the toxic mineral.
However, the threat of asbestos exposure doesn’t end with the ban. Employers should be diligent and informed when it comes to the latest safety procedures for employees working in high-risk occupations.
How Might the Asbestos Ban Affect the Industry?
Canada was once at the forefront of the asbestos industry, but the country’s production of the deadly mineral came to a halt in 2012 with the closing of Quebec’s two largest asbestos mines.
But that led to a rise in asbestos-containing imports such as brake pads and brake linings. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), Canada’s largest union, reports imports of asbestos products grew from $4.7 million in 2011 to $8.2 million in 2015.
Asbestos is banned in most of the world’s industrialized nations — including all 28 countries of the European Union — but Canada continues to import asbestos products from China, South Korea, Peru and Chile.
The asbestos ban is an important step for protecting future generations of workers in Canada. While the asbestos mining industry is no longer in operation, Canadian workers remain at risk for asbestos exposure from imported products, especially mechanics and laborers in the automotive industry.
It is also important to note an asbestos ban doesn’t remove the deadly mineral from Canadian infrastructure.
Much like in the U.S., houses, schools and office buildings built before the 1980s likely contain asbestos construction materials such as insulation, drywall, tile flooring and gaskets.
These materials are virtually safe if left intact, but when they are cut, grinded, demolished or in any other way disturbed, toxic asbestos fibers become airborne. Inhaling or swallowing these microscopic fibers can lead to serious health issues, including mesothelioma cancer.
Employers: Keeping your Employees Safe
Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases can take decades to develop, meaning an asbestos ban won’t have an immediate impact on Canadians. It could take at least 20 years before the ban produces significant results.
If you are an employer, constructor or supervisor involved in building maintenance, repair or alteration, it is essential to be well-informed about asbestos hazards. All workers who preform duties that may disturb asbestos-containing products should be able to identify these materials and take the necessary precautions when working around them.
Employers — even those not at risk for asbestos exposure — should be familiar with these procedures and be able to answer any questions employees may have regarding asbestos safety. Keeping your employees safe should be the No. 1 priority. OSG offers training in Asbestos Awareness that can aid you in keeping your employees safe.
Also, keep your employees informed about the dangers of asbestos exposure if the proper precautions are not taken. Be aware of early mesothelioma warning signs such as breathlessness, chronic cough and chest pain. Mesothelioma has no cure, but detecting it in the early cancer stages is the key to a longer survival.
With such a deep history, the threat of asbestos exposure in Canada will likely never dissipate. The asbestos ban is a necessary and vital first step, but it is imperative for Canadians and especially Canadian employers to remain cautious and be proactive.
As seen in our April Be Safe Newsletter
Written in Conjunction with asbestos.com
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