Every January 5th, mourners line up in downtown Vancouver to lay roses at the plaque.
commemorative honor Four carpenters who fell to their deaths 42 years ago, during the construction of Bentall IV Tower.
But the ceremony is in memory of all the construction workers who died on the job in B.C., with each flower representing a construction worker who never made it home. Last year there were 54 people.
And each year, the single substance that causes the most deaths is asbestos. In the first 11 months of 2023, 18 workers died in the state from asbestos-related cancers and illnesses, all due to asbestos exposure that occurred decades ago. .
Safety advocates say such exposures still occur, especially in the booming industry of removing asbestos from existing buildings.
The government is trying to change that. This month, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to require workers who work with asbestos to undergo special training and force companies to hire licensed asbestos removal contractors.
WorkSafeBC is rulesThe law, which went into effect Jan. 1, seeks to improve safety standards and create what supporters describe as an underground market for unscrupulous companies that cut corners by sending workers to handle asbestos without proper protective equipment or training. It excludes those who do.
Dan Jaik, business manager for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trade District Council 38, said unions in the state welcomed the new rules.
But he and other worker safety advocates also say they would like to see a focus on enforcement, including tougher penalties for companies that violate the rules and endanger workers and the public.
“I’m not saying all employers are bad, but [WorkSafeBC] “We introduced this regulation because there is a problem in the industry when it comes to responsible employer behavior,” Judzik said.
Even before scientists knew asbestos was a carcinogen, it was used in products ranging from paint and cement to car brake pads.
However, its most widespread use was as an insulating material.
Lee Loftus, a third-generation insulator, remembers when his father came home from work. asbestos fibers It’s stuck to his clothes. Mr Loftus currently suffers from asbestosis, a chronic lung disease caused by fibers in his lungs.
Loftus said workers are still exposed to asbestos today, often when removing insulation installed by other workers decades ago.
Hundreds of companies in British Columbia offer services to remove asbestos from buildings before they are demolished or renovated.
Not all of them are up to the same standard.
Since 2019, WorkSafeBC has issued 427 fines related to the improper handling of asbestos. Some fines were small while others were huge. In 2022, regulators found a waste management company failed to provide employees with protective equipment when removing asbestos from a fire-damaged Kimberley building.
WorkSafeBC ultimately $710,488 fine For GFL Environmental, this was the largest fine ever imposed on a company.
In some cases, fines alone were not enough. In 2012, the British Columbia Supreme Court convicted asbestos removal contractor Arthur Moore. guilty of contempt. Moore is accused of endangering his employees, many of whom were allegedly recruited from substance use treatment centers.
WorkSafeBC has obtained 52 court injunctions to stop companies from operating after repeatedly violating safety regulations. Nineteen of these injunctions were against asbestos removal contractors.
In many cases, workers may not be aware that they are being exposed. Mary Loveless, WorkSafe BC’s director of prevention, said asbestos is odorless. Once disturbed, the fibers can remain in the air for hours. And the actual symptoms are asbestosis It may not appear until years or decades after it is too late.
Government-commissioned project in December 2018 report “The enforcement challenges and issues surrounding unscrupulous contractors who break the rules and endanger workers and the public are so significant that they will be effective in prohibiting these contractors from working in this industry.” A licensing system is needed to provide a legal mechanism.” ”
Now, that system is finally in place.
New rules, public registry
Loveless said asbestos removal workers must be certified by a government-approved agency run by a mix of unions, health and safety companies and employers.
The amount of training required will vary depending on the worker’s role, but if you are actually involved in asbestos removal, an in-person assessment is required. Companies are regularly reviewed to ensure that training is adequate.
In addition, WorkSafeBC currently provides government approvals for asbestos abatement companies. Asbestos abatement permit register.
Failure to do so may result in fines.
The main contractor at a construction site may only employ companies registered in its public register to carry out abatement work. If they don’t, those contractors could also be subject to fines and other penalties, Lovelace said.
And if inspectors decide that the standards are not met, companies can be removed from the register, Lovelace added.
“Everyone can now see which employers are taking appropriate steps to ensure worker safety, whereas previously homeowners, contractors, etc. We were not able to fully understand the practices,” Lovelace said.
She also hopes the public register will “limit or eliminate” the ability of unscrupulous abatement companies to continue operating, as homeowners and contractors can register freely. search online.
As of mid-January, about 3,500 retrenched workers had been certified and about 350 companies had signed up for the registry, Loveless said.
“We hope this makes it harder for these abatement contractors to even find people who want to do this type of work if they want to do it discreetly,” Loveless said.
Judzik said the state’s unions are happy to have a licensing system in place. But he argued that employers should not be allowed to certify workers. He said that should be left to unions like his.
“I’m concerned that the diligence of employers who have the authority to certify people will get in the way of dollars,” Yadzik said.
Loftus, who served on WorkSafeBC’s board during the development of the new regulations, said the key going forward will be enforcing the new rules.
“Ninety-five percent of people will pay to do the right thing, and they’re absolutely right. But I don’t think that’s taking into consideration the other parts,” Loftus said. Ta.
Mr Loftus argues that the government should create a register to track which buildings contain asbestos. Saskatchewan, for example, has already created such a register for government-owned properties.
Mr Loftus also believes there should be tougher penalties, including criminal charges, for companies and individuals who dispose of asbestos improperly.
“Does this mean there will be no more piles of asbestos found in alleys, schoolyards and shopping malls? I don’t think so,” Loftus said of the new rules. “Because disposing of asbestos material is expensive and not easy. It’s easier to risk your life, the life of your neighbor, the life of someone else.”
Jaic said the key to the new regulations’ success will be whether they can eradicate B.C.’s illegal asbestos removal economy.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Yadzik said. “It remains to be seen whether this will be an effective means of removing these unscrupulous contractors from business.”
Zach Vecera, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee
Reporting errors via editorial policy