What’s At Stake
According to workers’ comp data, asbestos exposure is the nation’s leading cause of workplace death, with mesothelioma, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases accounting for more than 1 of every 3 fatality claims accepted by Canadian workers’ comp boards since 1996. And asbestos isn’t just a construction issue. Even though it hasn’t been in use since 1990, asbestos containing materials (ACMs) are still present in workplaces across the country—within walls, ceilings, tiles, insulation and even car parts. An estimated 153,000 Canadian workers are exposed to asbestos each year.
The Costs of A$be$to$ Expo$ure
In 2011, 427 patients were diagnosed with mesothelioma in Canada. Total costs:
Source: Institute of Work & Health
The Need for an Asbestos Exposure Control Plan
OHS laws require employers to implement an asbestos exposure control plan (ECP) to protect workers who handle or use asbestos-containing materials or work near operations where ACMs are used. The ECP must include measures to eliminate or at least keep workers’ exposure to airborne asbestos fibers below a specific occupational exposure level (OEL), which in most jurisdictions is 0.1 f/cc, i.e., 0.1 respirable asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter of air. (Click here to see the asbestos OEL of your jurisdiction.)
The 14 Things to Include in Your ECP
Although ECP requirements vary slightly by jurisdiction, there are 14 basic elements every ECP should include. (Click here for a Model Asbestos ECP that you can adapt for your workplace.)
1. Statement of Purpose
Start by describing the purpose of the ECP, i.e., to protect workers from the hazards posed by asbestos exposure. [ECP, Sec. 1].
2. Key Definitions
As with many health and safety policies and procedures, there are certain technical definitions you need to clarify in your asbestos ECP, including:
- Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs): This is definition is critical to determine when the control measures in the ECP are triggered;
- “HEPA”: Short for High Efficiency Particulate Air, HEPA filters are a key piece of respiratory protective equipment for workers exposed to asbestos; and
- “Qualified” or “competent person”: The credentials an individual must possess to perform key functions of the ECP, such as airborne monitoring, inventorying and development of safe work procedures.
[ECP, Sec. 2].
3. Workers Your ECP Is Designed to Protect
Make it clear that the ECP is designed to protect any and all workers who may be exposed to asbestos at your site, including not just your own company’s full- and part-time employees but also:
- Temporary employees placed by an outside agency who work at your site;
- Contract labourers hired to work at your site;
- Volunteers who work at your site for free; and
- Workers of the prime contractors, constructors, contractors and subcontractors (which we’ll refer to collectively as “contractors”) you hire to work with or near ACMs at your site.
[ECP, Sec. 4]
4. ECP Roles & Responsibilities
Describe the roles and responsibilities of the persons involved in implementing the ECP, including:
- Your company’s officers, directors and other principles who would be considered “employers” under your jurisdiction’s OHS laws [ECP, Sec. 5.1];
- The ECP administrator [ECP, Sec. 5.2];
- The qualified person (described above) [ECP, Sec. 5.3];
- Supervisors [ECP, Sec. 5.4]; and
- Workers [ECP, Sec. 5.5].
6. The ACM Inventory
Now we come to the actual control measures, starting with the need to identify the ACMs at your site or facility. Specifically, you need to hire an approved environmental consultant to survey all of the buildings that you own or lease that were built before 1990 (when asbestos use in construction became illegal) and create an inventory of ACMs and other hazardous materials they contain. Specify that you’ll keep the inventory in a place that’s accessible to workers and provide a copy of it to all contractors performing physical improvements at sites that involve the risk of disturbance of ACMs [ECP, Sec. 6].
7. Risk Assessment
The ECP should provide for having a qualified person perform airborne testing and other measurements to determine exposure levels. In most provinces, the controls required for protection against asbestos exposure depend on the risk classification of the operation involved. Accordingly, require the qualified person to do an assessment and categorize each operation involving asbestos exposure into 1 of 3 classifications:
- “Low risk activities” in which workers work with or near ACMs but don’t need engineering controls or PPE because the operations they perform pose a low risk of exposure to asbestos fibers. Activities can be classified as low risk only if the ACMs aren’t cut, sanded, drilled, broken, ground down, fragmented or otherwise disturbed in a way that creates the potential for asbestos fibers to be released [ECP, Sec. 7.1];
- “Moderate risk activities” which involve work on non-friable asbestos or operations in which friable asbestos may be affected but that pose only a moderate risk of release and exposure [ECP, Sec. 7.2];
- “High risk activities” put workers at high risk of exposure, e.g., ACM removal or encapsulation, using electric tools to cut through ACM or spraying a sealant on a friable ACM [ECP, Sec. 7.3].
Be sure to list examples of work operations in the description of each classification.
When selecting measures to control identified asbestos exposure hazards posed by moderate- and high-risk work activities, you follow the standard “hierarchy of controls”:
- If practicable, eliminate or modify the operations so as to eliminate the need to handle, use, cut, move or disturb ACMs [ECP, Sec. 8.1];
- If elimination isn’t practicable, use engineering controls, which may include local exhaust ventilation, wetting or misting the ACMs being worked on, isolating the work area where the operation is being carried out and/or encapsulation [ECP, Sec. 8.2];
- If you can’t completely engineer asbestos hazards out of existence, you’ll need to implement work/administrative controls, such as air monitoring, posting warning signs, safe work procedures, etc. [ECP, Sec. 8.3]; and
- If engineering and administrative controls are either impracticable or not enough to totally eliminate asbestos hazards, you can use respirators and PPE as a last resort [ECP, Sec. 8.4].
You also need to implement decontamination and hygiene measures to protect workers against the risk of what’s known as “secondary” inhalation or ingestion which may occur when asbestos on PPE, skin or hair is disturbed, including protocols for removing, cleaning and disposing of contaminated PPE and clothing [ECP, Sec. 9].
10. Training & Education
Training must be provided by a qualified person before a worker is assigned to a position or location involving hazardous asbestos exposure and reinforced or repeated after workers commit violations or otherwise indicate that they no longer understand or are capable of applying their safety training [ECP, Sec. 10].
11. Health Monitoring
OHS Regulations of most jurisdictions require employers to monitor workers for biological signs of illnesses associated with hazardous substances to which they’re exposed. Unfortunately, there are currently no established biological exposure indices for mesothelioma, asbestositis and other asbestos illnesses. However, there are tests that can be used for early detection of symptoms associated with asbestos exposure, including annual pulmonary function tests to detect decreased lung functionality and chest x-rays to detect scarring in the lung [ECP, Sec. 11].
Make sure your ECP provides for keeping the various records and reports required by OHS asbestos regulations, e.g., training, ACM air monitoring, inspection and equipment maintenance records [ECP, Sec. 12].
13. Requirements for Contractors
The ECP should include measures to protect the workers of any contractors hired to perform repairs or operations involving asbestos exposure at your site, starting with providing them the latest version of your ACM inventory. Ordinary contractors and subcontractors should be required to ensure their workers know about and comply with the terms of your ECP; prime contractors in control of work should be required to either adopt your ECP or their own plan suitable for the work and physical environment and that provides at least equivalent protection to workers as your ECP does [ECP, Sec. 13].
Last but not least, provide for reviewing your ECP at least once a year and on an immediate basis in response to significant changes in work circumstances or conditions and/or incidents and other red flags suggesting that the policy isn’t working and needs to be reviewed. You may have to perform such review in consultation with your JHSC or health and safety representative, depending on your jurisdiction’s OHS laws [ECP, Sec. 14].