Workplaces Must Learn from Asbestos-related Deaths

Experts Say Workplaces Must Learn from Asbestos-related Deaths

It’s been more than 20 years since the British Columbian government placed serious restrictions regarding exposure to asbestos at the workplace, but the province in the western portion of Canada still sees large numbers of individuals who are dealing with asbestos diseases.

And the numbers have not dwindled in the last few decades.

Workplaces Must Learn from Asbestos-related DeathsThat’s because the toxin was widely used in Canada for well over a century, especially since the mineral was mined in that country, mostly at locations in the province of Quebec.

For decades, asbestos was used to make insulation, tiles, fireproofing materials, and countless other products.

WorkPlace BC, which is a provincial agency that handles workplace injury and death claims, professes that a third of all work-related death claims filed in 2017 were related to asbestos exposure…even now, two decades after those stringent laws were put in place.

Of course, that’s because asbestos diseases like mesothelioma or asbestosis often take up to 40 years to appear. So, that means those being diagnosed with those illnesses now were likely employed before the rules went into effect, perhaps sometime in the 1970s or 80s.

“A total of 242 accepted work-related death claims have been from one of these two diseases since 2013, and that likely doesn’t capture the full impact of asbestos exposure in this province,” proclaims an article in The Star Vancouver. “The chemical may also have contributed to lung cancer deaths and other diseases,” that likely were not directly attributed to asbestos on the record.

Nonetheless, says Dr. Christopher Carlsten, associate professor and chair in occupational and environmental lung disease at UBC’s department of medicine, that doesn’t mean that companies weren’t already aware that asbestos was dangerous.

He cited the research of Dr. Irving J. Selikoff, who write a tremendous amount in the 1960s about the dangers of this hazardous mineral.

In addition, other proof of the hazards of asbestos are dated as early as the 1920s and 1930s. But no one seemed to care.

The most important thing everyone can learn from this, Carlsten says, is not to repeat history. He believes that the high rate of deaths from asbestos exposure should be “a warning to regulators not to delay in creating rules that protect people from exposure to toxic substances.”

In particular, Carlsten cites the use of engineered nanoparticles, which he believes are one of today’s greatest threats to the health of workers.

“They can get into the lungs, the outside of the lungs, the lining of the lungs just like asbestos does,” he said.
Carlsten also expresses his concern about e-cigarettes, which are being touted all over Canada as the safer alternative to smoking the “real” thing.

“The research so far is showing much more reason for concern than anyone would have considered,” he said

Hence, he opines, if Canada (and other countries) allow these uses to continue as they allowed the use of asbestos to continue, history is likely to repeat itself and the collective “we” will have learned nothing from our mistakes.