What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals made up of thin, microscopic fibers. Asbestos offers heat and chemical resistance, fireproofing, and strength. As a result, breathing in asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.

Are Construction Workers Exposed to Asbestos?

The construction industry widely used asbestos starting in the 1930s and continued to do so for more than three decades due to its high flexibility, thermal insulation properties, structural strength, and acoustical absorption.

Asbestos fibers were used in the construction of both commercial and residential buildings and can be found in interior finishes, insulation, tiling, piping, electrical equipment, cement, and other building materials.

In the 1970s people started to recognize the health issues associated with asbestos, which resulted in a sharp decline in its use and an increase in its prohibition.

Health Risks

Asbestos is extremely hazardous when it becomes disrupted and airborne, as it is easily inhaled or ingested. For that reason, asbestos was prescribed as one of eleven Designated Substances in the province of Ontario. As a carcinogen, exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to many health concerns, including scarring of the lungs known as Asbestosis and the very severe form of cancer known as Mesothelioma.

What happens when asbestos is inhaled?

The particles cling to the tissues of the lungs and other areas of the respiratory system and because the fibers are too durable for the immune system to break down and remove them, they cause scarring and inflammation over time that can eventually develop into tumors.

Depending on the health risk, it can take between 15-40 years from the time of exposure for health concerns to develop, making it difficult to diagnose in the early stages and often resulting in a poor prognosis.

Since the 1970s legislation has been developed and implemented in order to manage all existing asbestos. In Ontario, there is Regulation 278/05 and a variety of guidelines for construction, renovation, and demolition.  Other provinces have similar legislation, such as regulations respecting occupational health and safety in Quebec, B.C. Reg. 296/97 in British Columbia, and the Alberta Asbestos Abatement Manual in Alberta.

Asbestos Materials and Health & Safety

Asbestos is categorized into friable and non-friable and depending on age, condition, and the type of work the building requires, there are different management programs. Not all suspected products contain asbestos, only laboratory analysis of the actual material can determine its asbestos content. Products are suspected to contain asbestos based on the type of material and manufacturing date.

As per most provincial regulations, building managers and owners must implement an:

  • Exposure Control Plan
  • Asbestos Management Program (AMP)

What Can a Hazardous Materials/ Environmental Health & Safety Specialist do for you?

Obtaining expert advice and hazardous material support during the initial stages of your construction, renovation or demolition allows for safe and effective asbestos identification, management, and/or abatement. This allows you to understand the full scope of work and related safety measures involved. Then strategically plan the remaining work and make decisions in order to ensure a safe work environment for workers and others who may be affected by its presence. More importantly, ensure that your buildings are more likely to meet applicable codes and standards.

Our specialists can help you develop a solution that is:

  • An all-inclusive hazardous material management solution;
  • Safe and effective for your staff, clients, and the public;
  • Compatible with your operations; and,
  • Compliant with acts, regulations, and codes.

Ask our Experts

McIntosh Perry’s unique approach to hazardous material management plans and awareness training allows you to proactively manage situations to minimize health risks, preserve project schedules and protect your organization from legal liability. 

It’s vital that inspectors are true experts, as asbestos is not always easy to identify. Our building science experts provide a range of hazardous materials and occupational hygiene services, tailored specifically to your organization’s needs.

For more information on how we can help with your hazardous materials and occupational hygiene requirements, please visit our Hazardous Materials – Environmental Health & Safety webpage or contact:

Mario Morana,
Manager, Hazardous Materials /Environmental Health & Safety


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