The Government of Canada furthered its efforts to ban asbestos across the country on July 12, when it announced that it was lowering the acceptable level of workplace exposure to airborne chrysotile asbestos to as close to zero as possible.
The move was effective immediately, according to a news release from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). Patty Hajdu, the federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, announced in Gatineau, Que. that the lower threshold would minimize the risk of workers contacting airborne asbestos fibres and align Canada’s national standard with those of individual provinces and territories. The new limit is also more consistent with international standards.
“Every employee has the right to a safe workplace,” said Hajdu, as quoted in the release. “I’m proud to be announcing these long-overdue regulatory changes on asbestos, a key element of our government’s comprehensive ban.”
Federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan said in a press statement that protecting Canadians’ health and safety “is of utmost importance” to the Justin Trudeau government.
“Canadians can be confident my colleagues and I will continue to work hard to ensure that families, workers and communities will be protected from the harmful impacts of asbestos exposure,” added Duncan, “so they may lead healthy, secure lives.”
The move is part of the federal government’s ongoing strategy to ban all asbestos and asbestos-containing products by next year. Canada’s occupational health and safety law regulations require exposure to airborne asbestos to follow the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists Threshold Limit Values at 0.1 fibres per cubic centimetre, according to a backgrounder on the ESDC website.
Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, whose organization has been lobbying for a complete asbestos ban for some time, told COHSN that the lower threshold was a move “in the right direction” that would “send a clear message” that the carcinogenic mineral should not be used.
“We welcome the action of the government,” said Yussuff. “There’s always going to be argument on what level of threshold is acceptable for workers to be exposed, and we believe no amount of asbestos fibres is safe. So lowering the threshold certainly brings us one step closer to the inevitable situation that the government already announced, a complete ban of both import and export of asbestos.”
Yussuff added that there is still a lot more work to do, including bringing all provincial asbestos-exposure standards into line and creating registries of buildings that still contain the mineral. “We’ve got some distance to go,” he said.
“I also believe that we need a national registry for workers that are dying from asbestos-related disease in this country,” explained Yussuff, “to give us, really, an account as to how many people are affected by the substance, yet decades after the worker may have been exposed to it.”
ESDC announced its strategy on a nationwide asbestos ban last Dec. 15. In addition to the new occupational exposure limit, the strategy consists of regulating the handling, removal, repair and disturbance of asbestos-containing material to minimize worker exposure. Previously, Public Services and Procurement Canada had already banned the use of asbestos in all new federal construction and renovation projects (COHSN, April 12, 2016).
“It moves us one step closer, of course, to try to make this country a safer place for workers who work in industry,” Yussuff said about the lowered threshold.