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How are workers protected from asbestos exposure in Ontario?

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), asbestos is prescribed as a designated substance and has two designated substance regulations. Regulation 490/09 is applicable to industrial and mining establishments and Regulation 278/05 is applicable to construction projects and in building and repair operations.

What are the regulatory requirements relevant to the potential exposure to asbestos caused by tornado damaged buildings where asbestos containing materials may be present?

Regulation 278/05, Asbestos on Construction Projects and in Buildings and Repair Operations, applies to every building in which Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) is present and to the owner of the building.

Regulation 278/05 also applies to every project and its owner when the owner or his agent hires a contractor or subcontractor to perform work or supply services.

ACM is defined as a material that contains 0.5 per cent or more asbestos by dry weight.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) also has a general duty clause under section 25(2)(h) which states that an employer shall take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker.

Does the Regulation 278/05 apply whether or not it is known or suspected that ACM will be encountered?

Yes. The Regulation applies whether or not it is known or suspected that ACM will be encountered during a project, repair, alteration or maintenance of a building, or demolition of machinery, equipment, aircraft, ships, locomotives, railway cars and vehicles. This ensures that material that may be handled, disturbed or removed will be examined to determine whether it is ACM or will be treated as though it is ACM.

The Regulation also applies to specified operations if ACM is likely to be handled, dealt with, disturbed or removed during the course of the work.

How is the Regulation applied to construction projects?

The Regulation applies to the owner of a project, and to every constructor, employer and worker who works in or on the project. An employer includes all contractors and subcontractors.

How is the Regulation applied to buildings?

The Regulation applies to every employer and worker in a building engaged in a project, repair, alteration, maintenance or demolition and work incidental to such activity.

It is important to note that the term “owner”, as defined by the Act, includes tenants. Depending upon the circumstances a tenant may be considered to be an “owner” or may be considered to be an “occupier”. Once notified by an owner of the presence, in the area he or she occupies, of ACM or material being treated as ACM, the occupier takes on the responsibilities set out in the Regulation for notifying and training his or her own workers.

Section 30 of the Act requires the owner of a project to prepare a list of designated substances on the project, including asbestos, and make it available to a constructor. If any work on the project is tendered, the person issuing the tenders must include, as part of the tendering information, a copy of the list of all designated substances for the project, prepared by the owner. This section of the Act applies to the owners of residential properties who undertake projects, and helps to ensure that constructors, employers and workers who carry out these projects are aware of the presence of asbestos in these buildings.

Buildings that contain material that may be ACM are covered by the Regulation even when no work is being done on them. The owners of these buildings are required to maintain an asbestos management program even when no work is being done on them.

What is the Asbestos Management Program in Buildings?

Regulation 278/05, section 8 requires asbestos management programs in various circumstances such as:

    • when an owner knows or ought reasonably to know of the presence of friable and non-friable ACM in a building, and
    • when an owner may also choose to treat friable and non-friable material that has been used in a building for any purpose related to the building as though it is ACM.

The asbestos management program includes requirements for asbestos record keeping, regular inspection, notification of occupiers, employers, workers, and worker training.

What are the requirements to control workers exposure to asbestos exposure?

Regulation 278/05 requires that asbestos work be classified according to the asbestos hazard presented by the work, both to those doing the work and to others outside the work area.

The work classification can be thought of as being associated with a low, medium, and high risk of exposure. Activities have been assigned to one of the three types of operations based on an assessment of the risk of exposure.

Based on the type of asbestos work, protective measures must be followed to control the exposure. The control measures include requirements such as isolation, signage, training, personal protective equipment, decontamination facilities, work procedures etc.

I think I might have asbestos in my building, how can I get it tested?

A qualified consultant can be retained who will take samples and validate/confirm if asbestos is present. The Occupational Hygiene Association in Ontario (OHAO) has a Directory of Consultants that can provide asbestos consulting services

As well, health and safety information and services are offered by Ontario’s Health and Safety Associations and Partners such as: