WorkSafeBC has issued 264 stop-work orders and imposed 154 penalties related to asbestos exposure at residential construction sites in Surrey and Langley combined from 2016 to 2023 year-to-date.
In comparison Vancouver, Delta and Richmond combined recorded 245 stop work orders and 93 penalties over that same period, Abbotsford recorded 77 and 29, Victoria recorded 42 and 25, Kelowna 28 and nine, and Prince George four and one.
Alexandra Skinner, manager of government and media relations for WorkSafeBC, says exposure to asbestos and residential construction sites “is an issue” in Surrey and occupational disease caused by asbestos exposure is the number-one cause of workplace deaths in B.C.
WorkSafeBC has over the past seven years issued more than 1,100 stop-work orders on residential construction sites related to asbestos exposure and issued fines ranging from $1,250 to $710,488 at residential and commercial construction sites.
Barry Nakahara, WorkSafeBC’s senior manager in prevention field services, suggests the common “denominator” in Surrey’s relatively high numbers may be found in building permits.
“Across Metro Vancouver I see there was a huge increase in building permits in 2022. It’s gone down in 2023, but there’s still more building activity in ‘23 than there was back in 2020, 2021. So I think that is probably one of the biggest factors,” Nakahara told the Now-Leader. “I don’t think necessarily Surrey or Langley is any more problematic for this issue than any other parts of the province, but I think it comes down to just that volume of work that’s happening in that area over the past few years, its great and it coincides with the population.”
The good news is that starting on Jan. 1, 2024, asbestos abatement employers must be licensed to operate in B.C., meaning homeowners must make certain their asbestos abatement contractor has a valid licence before permitting them to carry out work. Licences are valid for one year and must be renewed annually.
“WorkSafeBC has recently introduced an online registry of licensed asbestos abatement professionals — the first of its kind in B.C. — designed to help those undertaking renovation or demolition work verify that they are hiring licensed professionals,” Skinner noted.
According to WorkSafeBC, asbestos is “prevalent” in residential and commercial buildings in this province, “posing serious health and safety risks when disturbed.”
It was used in more than 3,000 buildings in B.C. between the 1950s and 1990s but newer structures can also contain it if they were built with older materials. When disturbed by renovation or demolition work, exposure to the deadly mineral can result in severe health problems such as , various lung diseases and cancer.
“Between 2002 and 2022, asbestos exposure was the leading cause of work-related deaths in the province, resulting in 1,168 fatalities,” Skinner noted. Therefore, hiring licensed asbestos abatement professionals and certified workers is critical to safeguard people involved in renovation or demolition projects. “Homeowners, business owners, and contractors benefit from knowing that licensed contractors are invested in executing the work safely, as their licence is contingent on this. Once a licence is issued, WorkSafeBC will conduct regular reviews and inspections of licensees to ensure compliance with occupational health and safety legislation and regulations.”
The Asbestos Abatement Licence Registry is updated daily “and reflects the most current information available to WorkSafeBC.” You can find it at worksafebc.com
“Inclusion in the registry does not constitute an endorsement or referral from WorkSafeBC,” Skinner noted.
Nakahara said it’s hoped the online registry brings more public awareness to the issue, both with the public and with employers, as to how asbestos must be managed and it sets a “higher standard that everyone’s aware of, to hold people to account.”