Canadian authorities look to Australian asbestos strategy to counter asbestos exposure

Canadian authorities look to Australian asbestos strategy to counter asbestos exposure

Canadian authorities are looking to Australia’s asbestos eradication strategy as the nation grapples with rising mesothelioma rates and construction organisations seek more significant reforms to their industry to protect workers.

Adam Melnick, the director of Canadian Affairs for the International Association of Heat and Frost and Allied workers, said the federal ban on asbestos products in 2018 should be seen merely as a starting point for mitigation strategies. He noted that the union’s members and broader construction industry is at risk of asbestos exposure as the country races to meet climate goals.

Asbestos Free Canada has joined with the Insulators, and the Canadian Mesothelioma Foundation to form a working group to advocate for federal and provincial reform, with a focus on implementing a national asbestos strategy, supported by a new agency – the Australian model which works similarly is cited as a successful example.

“We need a strategic approach to asbestos in Canada,” said Alec Farquhar, co-ordinator with Asbestos Free Canada.

“This includes assessing the risk of the legacy asbestos in hundreds of thousands of buildings across Canada and developing a plan to remove it in a cost-effective way, ideally linked with other necessary work on our infrastructure, especially to strengthen our resiliency to the impact of climate change.”

The concerns lie primarily in massive works to retrofit existing buildings, many of which contain asbestos. Asbestos was limited for use in Canada in 1979, but a nationwide ban on its use wasn’t introduced until 1990. It is widely accepted that homes or buildings constructed after 1990 are guaranteed not to contain asbestos. However, municipal requirements relate to hazardous material reports for renovations on homes built before 1990.

“We’re talking about retrofits; we’re talking about our built environment lowering emissions, which means we’re modernising or updating mechanical systems and beyond. What’s inside these existing buildings? Asbestos.”

“We’re about to reembrace it, to be exposed to it again, at a whole new level.”

Melnick explained that the ban, which saw the end of active asbestos use, saw many workers consider the problem solved, but he says that there is a “huge chunk of our built environment [that] still contains the material in a lot of different ways.”

Estimates from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety put the number of workers who die from workplace-related asbestos exposure at approximately 2,000 annually.

The group is also calling for a mesothelioma registry, similar to what is being proposed for silicosis diagnosis in Australia, to track workplace exposure and improve early detection and treatment standards.

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