News / Vancouver

Province the next battleground against asbestos: BC Federation of Labour

Now that the federal government has banned asbestos production, imports and exports in Canada, labour groups want B.C. to license removal firms.

Francesco Spertini holds a chunk of chrysotile asbestos with his bare hands at the now closed Jeffrey mine in Asbestos, Que., in an August 10, 2016, file photo. The federal government is banning the use of asbestos in products.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Francesco Spertini holds a chunk of chrysotile asbestos with his bare hands at the now closed Jeffrey mine in Asbestos, Que., in an August 10, 2016, file photo. The federal government is banning the use of asbestos in products.

The British Columbia Federation of Labour says their next battleground against asbestos is in Victoria.

The federation’s president, Irene Lanzinger, praised the federal government’s intention, announced Thursday, to ban the production, importation and exportation of asbestos products in Canada.

But more work needs to be done on a provincial level to protect workers from the harmful material, which is linked to more than 2,000 fatal cancer and other related diseases every year.

“This is the leading cause of death for workers so it’s about time,” said Lanzinger. “I will say, though, that this ban is not everything that needs to be done.”

The next step, she said, is for the province to license asbestos removal firms and require mandatory certification for workers tasked with handling and removing it from buildings.

Lanzinger said she’s concerned about the number of firms that have been found to be in violation of WorkSafe BC orders and continue to expose their employees to risk.

“The removal of asbestos is a huge problem,” she said. “I think government do share our concern, they recognize that but they have not committed to what we suggest in terms of certification and licensing.”

Washington State has a licencing and certification model in place for companies that remove asbestos, Lanzinger said.

“We’re going to keep at it, we’ll continue pushing our provincial government to do something about it,” she said.

WorkSafe BC says workplace exposure to asbestos is “a major concern” and has extensive guidelines employers must follow.

Since 1996, there have been 1,016 deaths due to asbestos exposure in B.C., according to WorkSafe BC.

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