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. Common building materials that contain asbestos include:
- Flooring products
- Drywall joint compound
- Thermal insulations
- Fireproofing and acoustic ceiling tiles
When asbestos is disturbed during renovations, tiny asbestos fibres are released into the air and inhaled. Asbestos fibres can get trapped into the lungs and cause serious health problems in the future, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Asbestos-related lung diseases are the cause of many workplace fatalities in the province of Saskatchewan. In particular, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related lung diseases were responsible for approximately 25 per cent of the 299 fatalities accepted by the Saskatchewan WCB in the last decade (2010-2017). As of Oct. 31, 2018, 44% of 2018’s workplace fatalities were a result of occupational diseases.
While many of these asbestos-related diseases are from past practices decades ago, actions can be taken today to reduce the exposure to this hazard.
The following frequently asked questions were developed by WorkSafe Saskatchewan in consultation with Pinchin Ltd., an environmental consulting firm.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring form of fibrous silicate minerals. The ore was mined and then milled for its fibres. There are six different asbestos types of asbestos in two different forms – Chrysotile (serpentine form) and Amosite, Crocidolite, Actinolite, Tremolite and Anthophyllite (amphibole forms).
Prior to the mid-1990s, asbestos was used in over 3,000 different manufactured products. Out of these, 70% by tonnage were construction materials. Some of the most common materials include flooring products, plaster, drywall joint compound, thermal insulations, fireproofing and acoustic ceiling tiles. If it isn’t made of wood, glass or metal, it is suspect to contain asbestos.
If asbestos is disturbed, its small fibres are released into the air. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious health effects such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma (a form of cancer affecting the abdominal and chest walls).
It is not the concentration (or volume) of asbestos in a material that makes it ok, or hazardous. The condition of the material and physical characteristics is what matters. Because exposure to asbestos may cause respiratory disease, the concern comes from ease of inhalation of the materials once airborne. The more easily a material can be crumbled into a dust-like condition, the more easily it can become airborne (and potentially inhaled) if disturbed.
The only way to determine if a material contains asbestos is to have a sample analyzed at a qualified laboratory.
There are some materials that are known historically to be asbestos-containing (see above). However, these materials are also available in forms that do not contain asbestos. Therefore, the list of materials that may contain asbestos is quite extensive and the only way to rule out the presence of asbestos is to have the material tested.
Any building constructed before the mid-1990s is likely to have asbestos present in some of the building materials. Buildings constructed before the 1980’s would likely have a greater number of asbestos materials. This applies to schools, hospitals, office buildings, industrial buildings and even homes.
If the house is older than the mid-1990s is likely to have asbestos in some of the building materials. Homes built prior to the 1980s will have the greatest number of suspect materials.
The only way to determine if asbestos is present in your home is to sample the suspect materials and have them analyzed by a qualified laboratory.
Every room in your house has the potential to have asbestos containing materials in it. Prior to 1990, asbestos was used in flooring products, wall and ceiling materials, loose fill attic insulations, electrical components, mechanical insulations, glues and adhesives, exterior cladding, roofing materials. The list is extensive.
Without proper training, equipment and procedures, attempting to remove asbestos-containing materials by oneself, can very quickly put everyone in the home or building at risk.
The proper respirator, if worn correctly, can protect an individual. It WILL NOT prevent the hazardous asbestos fibres from becoming airborne and potentially contaminating other areas of the home or building.
It is extremely important that trained and qualified individuals – using the proper equipment and procedures to control the spread of the hazardous airborn fibres during the removal process – perform asbestos abatement on a home or building.
Selecting a qualified contractor for asbestos-removal is an important step to have asbestos safely removed from your home. We recommend asking a potential contractor to provide you with the following:
- Proof of Training
A good training program is a start in the right direction. Qualified contractors will be able to provide copies of training records and certificates for each of their employees that will be doing the work.
- Respirator Management Program
Ask for copies of the contractor’s Respirator Management Program and Respirator Fit Testing records for each of the employees that will be doing the work. Reputable contractors will ensure that their training records are current and up to date.
- WCB Clearance Certificates
Contractors who are awarded contracts for construction projects are routinely asked to provide WCB Clearance Certificates before starting work on commercial projects. A reputable contractor will have no problem providing this documentation.
- Liability Insurance
Most contractors carry Liability Insurance. Many policies carry a pollution exclusion clause that states they have no coverage for asbestos-related claims. Ask them for confirmation of Asbestos Liability Insurance.
Contact a local architectural, engineering and/or environmental health and safety consulting firm and ask them if they could refer you to a reputable contractor.
Ask for previous project references showing similar work.
Finding a qualified laboratory or consultant can be as challenging as finding a qualified contractor. Here are a few ways to help with the choice:
Contact your local architectural, engineering, and/or environmental health and safety consulting firms and ask for recommendations. These firms often retain consultants and laboratories to collect samples and perform analysis. In many instances, your local environmental health and safety consulting firms will come to your home and test for asbestos, and will submit the samples to a qualified laboratory.
- Laboratory Accreditations
Confirm that the laboratory and/or the analysts themselves are enrolled in some form of accreditation program specifically for asbestos analysis. Examples of common recognized Laboratory Accreditation programs include:
- AIHA (American Industrial Hygiene Association)
- NVLAP (National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program)
- CALA (Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation)
- Liability Insurance
Just like with contractors, liability insurance is important for consultants. Most architects, engineers and consultants carry Errors and Omissions Insurance, and just like with contractors, many of these policies will have a pollution exclusion clause. When hiring a consultant to conduct asbestos testing, it is a good idea to confirm that they have coverage specific to asbestos.
Protect yourself, your co-workers & your family
Educate yourself on the risks of asbestos. By doing so, you will lessen the risk of exposure and the development of an asbestos-related lung disease.
To learn more about where asbestos may be in your home, visit https://asbestos.ccohs.ca/
- Asbestos – What is…
- Asbestos – Control Strategies for Workplaces
- Asbestos – Health Effects
- Asbestos – In the Home
- Vermiculite insulation containing asbestos
- Asbestos chemical profile
From CCOHS and the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association:
- Avoid Asbestos and Other Hazards During Home Improvement
- How to Find Qualified Asbestos Abatement Contractors
From WorkSafe BC:
- 2018 Industry Initiative Overview – Asbestos: Residential Enforcement
- Asbestos in Demolition and Renovation
- Hidden Killer
- Safe Work Practices for Handling Asbestos
- WorkSafeBC Asbestos in Demolition and Renovation
From WorkSafe Saskatchewan