Owners, employers, employees and contractors should understand the risks of asbestos as well as know how to identify and handle asbestos-containing materials. There are some cases where working with asbestos is considered a high-risk process and the Occupational Health and Safety Division must be notified 14 days before starting the process.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material which was regularly used in buildings from the 1950s until the late 1990s. It was widely used as insulation and fire proofing solution in countless building products, but as it was often mixed with other materials, it can be hard to know if you’ve found it or not.
In particular, it can typically be found in products like:
- ceiling tiles
- floor tiles
- pipe insulation
- sprayed-on coatings
How Asbestos Can Affect Your Health
Repairs, maintenance, renovations and other processes may disturb asbestos-containing materials and release asbestos fibres into the air. If asbestos fibres are inhaled this can cause chronic, irreversible and life-threatening lung diseases. These diseases, which can occur several decades after exposure, include asbestosis (a lung scarring disease), lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
As long as the asbestos is well maintained and not disturbed or disintegrating, it doesn’t present an immediate risk to your health.
How to Safely Handle and Remove Asbestos
The Guidelines for Managing Asbestos in Buildings provides the specific steps to take when managing asbestos.
Any material likely to contain asbestos is considered to be asbestos-containing material until it is determined to be asbestos-free.
To control exposure to asbestos in the workplace, building owners and employers must:
- Identify and create an inventory of all asbestos-containing materials in the building.
Building owners and employers must ensure that a competent person creates an inventory of all asbestos-containing materials in the building. The inventory can be completed by reviewing the building’s architectural plans and performing a walk-through inspection of the building.
- Regularly inspect and maintain all asbestos-containing material identified in the inventory list and determine if any damage exists.
After all asbestos-containing material has been identified and listed (inventoried) it must be carefully inspected for damage. If damage exists, building owners and employers must decide on the safest method for addressing this damage, based on the use of the asbestos (i.e. thermal insulation, ceiling tile, etc.), amount of damage, potential for asbestos fibres to be released into the air (creating an exposure hazard).
Although the method to address any damaged asbestos material must be decided on a case-by-case basis, some methods include:
- Removing all or part of the asbestos (abatement);
- Sealing the surface of the asbestos (encapsulation); and/or
- Building an air-tight barrier over the asbestos (enclosure).
Train all staff who are expected to work near asbestos about safe work procedures before they begin work that could disturb asbestos.
Before any work begins with or near the asbestos material, building owners and employers must develop and put safe work procedures in place. The purpose of safe work procedures is to eliminate or control potential worker exposure to asbestos. Workers must be trained in these procedures, according to their job duties and comply with these procedures.
While some workers may only need to know where the asbestos material is located, and to be careful not to disturb or damage the material, others who are expected to work near the asbestos material, (i.e. maintenance staff) will require more specific training on its handling, removal, and disposal in the event of unexpected disturbance or release of asbestos fibers.
Train all staff who are expected to work with asbestos about safe work procedures before they begin work.
In order to work with asbestos, workers and employers must follow the requirements under Saskatchewan’s occupational health and safety legislation. The Occupational Health and Safety Division has developed the Saskatchewan Asbestos Abatement Manual to provide regulatory requirements as well as best practices which support a standardized approach to asbestos abatement.
The Saskatchewan Asbestos Abatement Manual presents basic information on asbestos and asbestos products, health hazards, safe work procedures, inspection criteria, requirements for worker protection and other legislated requirements, and competency profiles for persons involved in abatement activities.
Notification of High Risk Asbestos Process
There are some cases where working with asbestos is considered a high-risk process. Employers, contractors and owners must notify the Occupational Health and Safety Division 14 days before the process starts by completing a Notification of High Risk Asbestos Process Form. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 1996 provide details on high-risk processes.