Surrey city staff have recommended to council that WorkSafeBC, rather than the city itself, should oversee asbestos abatement because it has “greater knowledge, experience and expertise” in dealing with the deadly material.
This is from a corporate report to city council, that the politicians endorsed on Feb. 11, entitled BC Asbestos Working Group Draft Report and Recommended Actions, in response to a provincial government report, Keeping Workers, the Public and the Environment Safe from Asbestos.
The latter was driven by the ministries of labour, municipal affairs and housing, health, environment and WorkSafeBC, the draft of which was released in December with 16 recommendations.
Among these are establishing a “licensing scheme” that applies to asbestos abatement contractors, consultants and surveyors and that the government designates a ministry to oversee this scheme; that the provincial government set up universal standards and programs for training asbestos abatement workers; and that a regime be established for the analysis of and reporting on asbestos samples and the government adopt accreditation requirements for labs.
The report also recommends that “steps be taken” to require, prior to the demolition of structures containing hazardous materials, that inspections and reports be undertaken by a qualified person.
The city’s corporate report, written by general manager of engineering Fraser Smith, general manager of planning and development Jean Lamontagne, and Rob Costanzo, general manager of corporate services, maintains that “most municipalities lack the expertise and/or capacity to enforce a requirement assuring that an asbestos abatement has been properly completed prior to the issuance of a renovation, demolition or building permit” and therefore, “taking on this responsibility would make municipalities vulnerable to liability associated with asbestos exposure.”
Surrey Councillor Doug Elford agreed with city staff that WorkSafe should be taking on the responsibility of licensing asbestos contractors in British Columbia.
“I’ve had personal experiences in this industry as an inspector,” Elford said. “I’ve seen vulnerable and precarious workers unknowingly exposed to asbestos during demolitions. I’ve also seen the damage done from the dumping of hazardous materials in our environment.
”Not to mention the cost of picking up the abandoned waste as well, which is a burden on us, the taxpayers. I’m glad to see something has finally happened to try to regulate this industry,” Elford said.
“It’s been a long time. I agree with staff that the City of Surrey should not have to bear the burden of doing this work and that the onus should be on WorkSafeBC. It’s taken far too long to get this established and I’m encouraging staff to work with WorkSafe to get a better licensing, a proper licensing system in place for this industry. The sooner the better.”
Asbestos-related diseases are the leading cause of workplace deaths in B.C., according to the corporate report, and result from “significant” workplace exposure that occurred 20 years ago or more. Between 2008 and 2017, B.C. recorded 617 related deaths, with a majority of the victims under age 65.
Meantime, the provincial report notes that in 2012 WorkSafeBC established an “exposure registry program” designed to track exposure to workplace disease and to date has documented 2,964 exposures, 1,816 involving asbestos.