Asbestos is a dangerous substance and needs to be handled carefully to avoid short- and long-term health effects. Here's what homeowners and pros need to know about asbestos safety in your home.

For Homeowners

As a homeowner — especially if your house was constructed in the '80s — here's what you need to know first about asbestos: You can't tell if you have asbestos unless you test for asbestos. Everyday areas at risk include:

  • Building insulation
  • Floor and ceiling tiles
  • Cement and plaster
  • Furnaces and heating systems 
  • House siding
  • Car and truck brake pads

If you suspect that you may have asbestos in your home, you need to have it tested.  

What To Do If Your House Tests Positive for Asbestos?

Unless you have taken and passed a course on asbestos removal, follow all of the regulations:   

Do not cut it! Do not drill it! Do not sand it! Do not saw it! Do not scrape it! Do not scrub it! Do not remove it! Do not power wash it! Do not demolish it!   

Asbestos only poses health risks when fibres are present in the air we breathe, and products do not release significant amounts of fibre unless they are cut or damaged. If the asbestos fibres are enclosed or tightly bound in a compound, there is not a significant health risk.  

Health Canada advises if you have asbestos in your home, and want it removed, you must call in a professional to properly and safely remove it for you. 

For Construction Professionals

If you are a construction professional, you must take safety precautions when working with any hazardous materials, Asbestos, with its numerous health risks, should be at the very top of the list.  

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), exposure to asbestos can cause cancer and other diseases that can lead to impaired breathing function and even death. 


How Asbestos is Dangerous

Asbestos is the generic name for various fibrous materials found naturally in rock formations around the world.

Its value as a reinforcing, insulating and fire-proofing material lead to widespread use in construction materials such as insulation board, asbestos cement, drywall joint cement, spackling, and floor and ceiling tiles.

Health risk caused by asbestos exposure depends on the following factors:  

  • The concentration of asbestos fibres in the air. 
  • How long the exposure lasted.
  • How often you were exposed.
  • The size of the asbestos fibres inhaled.
  • The amount of time since the initial exposure.
Although asbestos is officially banned today, Health Canada states it was commonly used for insulation and fireproofing before 1990. Most manufacturers began to stop putting it in insulating products in the early '80s and in non-friable products in the late '80s and early '90s, so if your home or apartment building was built before or during this time, take extra precaution. 
If you are a contractor, learn your province's specific procedures for handling asbestos. You should always follow all regulations and requirements established by their respective occupational health and safety authorities, as it is a legal responsibility for contractors and a personal safety issue for workers.  

Most procedures are very similar, but some provinces require special training to deal with asbestos. Searching the keyword "asbestos" on your provincial government's website should easily lead you to the correct information.
Prior to starting any repair, renovation or demolition project, hire a professional to test and remove asbestos, if any is found. Never try clean it up yourself. Remember that the health risks with asbestos is higher when it's disturbed. 
Scraping, brushing, rubbing, or cutting damaged insulation or other asbestos-containing material is dangerous. Homeowners should always hire a professional to test for asbestos first as a safety precaution. Insulation damage at your worksite should be reported to the appropriate authority, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Manager. It is required by law that workers are properly informed and trained on safe use of products that may contain hazardous substances like asbestos. 

Unfortunately, illness caused by asbestos exposure usually doesn't show any symptoms until there's a serious problem. If you work in an environment with a higher risk of exposure, it's recommended to take regular lung X-rays sometimes as much as once a year to monitor your health and catch any illness at its earliest stage. Your regular physician might suffice, but a respirologists or pulmonologists or someone who does occupational medicine might be better versed in the risks of asbestos exposure.

Educate yourself about the health risks of asbestos so that you and your family are protected for your next renovation or repair project. For more information on asbestos, visit Health Canada's website. For specific information on safety precautions when working with asbestos, contact the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) through its website or by phone: 1-800-263-8466.  

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