The continued dangers posed by asbestos may alarm British Columbia residents, homeowners and workers. Since 2000, the numbers of work-related fatalities from diseases caused by asbestos have exceeded the numbers of any other type of workplace injury in the province. In a December 2018 report entitled Keeping Workers, the Public and the Environment Safe from Asbestos, the BC government reported that asbestos-related occupational diseases continue to pose a serious threat to the health of workers, and compiled a number of recommendations to reduce the impact of asbestos.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is colourless and odourless–characteristics that exacerbate its danger. Buildings that were constructed prior to 1990 are almost guaranteed to pose asbestos risks because asbestos was a component in over 3,000 different building materials at that time. While regulations have restricted the use of asbestos in new buildings, the renovation or demolition of pre-1990 buildings can disturb asbestos dust, thus exposing workers without respiratory protection to airborne asbestos.
Asbestos-related diseases develop gradually, and workers might not even be aware of the damage caused by asbestos until it becomes life-threatening. Authorities say more than 617 workers succumbed to diseases caused by asbestos between 2008 and 2017. These workers were exposed more than 20 years ago when they worked with asbestos-containing building materials. Given the amount of renovation and demolition work across BC, workers are likely to continue to face the risk of asbestos exposure today.
The British Columbia workers’ compensation insurance system, WorkSafeBC, offers financial relief to injured workers and the surviving family members of deceased workplace injury victims. While WorkSafeBC covers occupational diseases, proving an illness or death to be work-related after 20 or more years, as may be the case with asbestos-related diseases, can be challenging. The skills of a lawyer with extensive experience in employment and workers’ compensation law can assist workers and their families in navigating the claims process and receiving the benefits to which they are entitled.