The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union is encouraged by steps the B.C. government is taking to complete a provincial inventory of asbestos in provincial government buildings built before 1990. This is a significant step in ensuring worker safety during construction, maintenance and renovation of government buildings, and an important step ahead of the promised ban on asbestos by the federal government in 2018.
Asbestos exposure and related diseases are the leading cause of worker deaths in B.C. according to WorkSafe BC (WCB). In fact, according to WCB, deaths linked to asbestos exposure represented 44 per cent of all accepted work-related deaths in 2016. That is why these steps to protect worker health are so important.
“It is unacceptable that workers are still being unknowingly exposed to asbestos in 2017,” said Stephanie Smith, President of the BCGEU. “We have known about its deadly effects since the 1980’s. It is time for the government to move forward with this provincial inventory of asbestos in government buildings.”
Last fall, Public Services and Procurement Canada launched a national online inventory of asbestos in buildings owned or leased by the federal agency, and it is expected other federal agencies will follow suit. Many groups, including the BCGEU, have been calling for the provincial government to take similar steps for years.
In BC, this inventory will cover 758 buildings, of which 451 are buildings leased by the province. The size of this project means the inventory could take up to four years to complete.
While BCGEU members are heartened by the announcement of the inventory, more needs to be done to protect workers’ health. Stronger legislation and enforcement is needed to ensure workers are not being exposed to asbestos without their knowledge and without proper equipment and training to protect their health and safety.
WorkSafe BC - Asbestos
WorkSafe BC - Asbestos: Be Aware program resources