Asbestos takes toll on British Columbia workers
WorkSafe British Columbia (BC), a government workplace safety agency in the Canadian province, recently compiled documents that show at least 50 workers in the region die annually from asbestos-related diseases.
While the use of asbestos was slowly phased out of Canada by the 1990s, its impact is still being felt in British Columbia, according to the Vancouver news provider The Province.
One man who is dealing with the consequences of suffering asbestos exposure in the workplace is Dirk Jansema.
The 61-year-old electrician from Vancouver Island is currently fighting end-stage mesothelioma, which he says was caused by the asbestos exposure he endured at his work.
Jansema told the news source he worked at pulp mills and various other industrial sites throughout his life and was regularly exposed to asbestos. He says that his employers’ feeling towards workers’ exposure to asbestos was, “You’ll be fine, don’t worry about it, you’ll be safe.”
However, Jansema, and many other workers, are not fine or safe. Many are dealing with asbestos-related diseases that, although they take years to develop, can be swift and deadly once diagnosed. Jansema was given only 18 months to live.
“You get ripped off of your life,” he told the news source. “It wasn’t self-inflicted. Somebody else did this to me.”
Once thought of as a miracle mineral because of its resistance to flame and insulating properties, asbestos was used for many years in a variety of industries. However by the mid-1960s it became known that exposure to the deadly mineral can cause asbestosis and lung cancer, along with malignant mesothelioma. Many industrial workers have had to deal with such diseases because the exposure the endured on the job.
United Steelworkers Local 480 President Doug Jones told the Postmedia News agency that dealing with these maladies is not an easy thing to do.
“I’ve seen first-hand what some of these people go through, and their families go through, and their grandchildren, and it’s just horrible,” he said.
While WorkSafe BC says that 50 workers die annually from asbestos exposure, the actual number is far higher because those numbers only account for workers who filed compensation claims, according to the news source.
A 2008 study put the figure much higher.
“Among B.C. workers alone, it is estimated that 1,500 workers will die from asbestos-caused disease over the next five years,” reads a 2008 report from the Rideau Institute in Ottawa. “And it is known that many cases of asbestos-caused disease are not recognized as such and not captured in the figures.”
Larry Stoffman, who spent eight years as the chair for a Health Canada committee on asbestos, does not mince words when it comes to explaining the toll that asbestos can take on workers.
“It’s a steady stream of death,” he told the Province. “There are cases where people have only been exposed for one day and they ended up with mesothelioma 30 years later.”
WorkSafe BC broke down the number of asbestos deaths by profession, revealing that electricians like Jansema account for 8 percent of claims. Metal workers and mechanics account for 21 percent, while plumbers and fitters, carpenters, painters and insulators were also highly represented in the findings.
While many precautions have been established to protect workers from asbestos, it is still present in many older buildings. Dealing with the substance has become an essential part of the demolition business as buildings must be completely abated of asbestos before they can be torn down because any of the fibers that escape and become airborne can cause serious diseases.
Stoffman told the news source that many contractors allow workers to remove asbestos-containing materials from buildings without proper equipment or training in order to save money.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 107,000 people die each year of asbestos-related diseases.