Asbestos: What you need to know before renovating your home or workplace

You’ve planned your project, set your budget, hired a contractor and got your building permit. You’re ready to begin your big reno but…hold on!

Have you got the all-clear on asbestos?

If you’re like a lot of Saskatchewan residents, you might not think you’re at risk of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was used in many residential and commercial building materials from the 1950s to the 1990s because of its strong fibres and resistance to fire. If your reno includes removing materials that contain asbestos, such as floor tiles, plaster, vinyl sheet flooring or blown-in insulation, you or your contractor(s) could inadvertently breathe in the invisible asbestos fibres that are released into the air when asbestos is disturbed. (Materials that are in good condition, with asbestos securely enclosed, don’t pose a threat unless you tamper with them.)

A silent, deadly disease                                                                                                                                                              

When asbestos fibres are inhaled or ingested, they can cause fatal damage to the body. When inhaled, they can cause asbestosis, a lung-scarring disease, and increase your risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma, which is a cancer in the tissue that surrounds many internal organs. Asbestos-related diseases are the leading cause of work-related deaths in Saskatchewan, accounting for 23 per cent of workplace fatalities from 2009 to 2018. People with asbestos-related diseases are typically diagnosed 10 to 40 years after exposure.

The good news is that asbestos-related diseases are preventable.

Before beginning a renovation at home or at work, here’s what you need to do to protect yourself, your family or your employees from asbestos exposure:

Find out if asbestos is present. A hazardous materials surveyor can identify where asbestos may be lurking in your home or workplace. The surveyor will safely collect samples of the suspect materials and have them tested at a lab accredited in asbestos analysis. To find a reputable asbestos surveyor, ask a local environmental health and safety consulting firm for recommendations. Don’t attempt to collect the samples yourself.

Have the asbestos removed. Choose a qualified asbestos-removal (“asbestos abatement”) company. Ask to see training records and certificates of the employees who will be doing the removal.

Learn more. Visit WorkSafe Saskatchewan for answers to frequently asked questions about asbestos and to hear Raeleen Minchuk Prokopetz tell her story. As a girl, Raeleen was exposed to asbestos during renovations in her grandparents’ home. Now, she’s battling end-stage mesothelioma.

Employers and workers can enrol in a short online training course in asbestos awareness. See Saskatchewan Asbestos Awareness: Understanding the Risk offered by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.