Opinion: Welcomed improvement to asbestos safety in Chilliwack

Chilliwack city staff and council deserve praise for tightening the rules around asbestos removal in demolitions.

A worker bundles asbestos material from a downtown demolition site that was subject to two WorkSafe BC stop-work orders.

A worker bundles asbestos material from a downtown demolition site that was subject to two WorkSafe BC stop-work orders.

Two months ago in this space, Chilliwack city council was asked to tighten its oversight on demolition permits to further protect workers from exposure to asbestos.

Last week councillors did just that. (City of Chilliwack adds new step in demolition permit process, Chilliwack Progress, Oct. 14.)

Council unanimously supported a staff recommendation that makes WorkSafe BC compliance mandatory before a demolition permit is issued. That means the city must have written verification that buildings built before 1990 have been checked for hazardous material by a qualified expert.

No verification, no demolition permit.

The goal is to reduce the chance of inadvertent exposure to asbestos, and ensure the material is removed safely and disposed of properly.

And it’s not just another bureaucratic hoop.

Asbestos exposure has become the leading cause of work-related deaths in the province, according to WorkSafe BC, killing on average one British Columbia every six days last year.

Rules already exist to protect workers, and penalties for offending demolition companies can be harsh.

However, an increasing number of Lower Mainland municipalities have decided another layer of defence was necessary; too often demolitions occur quickly and without adequate inspections. These cities have concluded that by making mandatory inspections a part of the demolition permit process the risk can be further reduced.

This is particularly pertinent in Chilliwack. We have already seen projects shut down because asbestos was not being handled properly. And we’ve seen evidence of asbestos dumped on our roadsides and in the back country.

As areas like Chilliwack’s downtown face continued redevelopment, even more demolitions are likely.

Chilliwack can be proud it now has proactive measures in place. And Chilliwack staff and council should be congratulated for working so quickly to implement more robust protection for workers and residents in the city. Their actions may have saved a life.