Unions push for asbestos ban on Day of Mourning

Canadian unions are renewing their call for a comprehensive ban on asbestos, highlighting the issue at events across the country today in conjunction with the National Day of Mourning.
“Asbestos is the leading cause of work-related death in Canada and with imports on the rise, the danger is increasing,” Canada Labour Congress (CLC) president Hassan Yussuff said. “That’s why we are calling on the federal government to commit to a comprehensive ban on all kinds of asbestos and to outline its plans for doing so before Parliament rises for its summer recess.”

Despite the danger, products that contain asbestos are still imported into Canada, said the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). Asbestos imports to Canada grew from $4.7 million in 2011 to $8.2 million in 2015, according to Statistics Canada. It pointed out the lack of a formal registry of buildings known to contain asbestos as well as the need for new government projects to be built asbestos-free.

But according to a report by the CBC, the federal government is working on those items. Judy Foote, the minister of public services and procurement, said the government is developing an inventory of owned and leased buildings to identify those that contain asbestos, which will be available this summer. She also told the CBC her department has committed to banning asbestos in construction and renovations at federal sites.

In addition to a comprehensive ban, unions want harmonized regulatory standards for asbestos disposal and a comprehensive health response to asbestos diseases.
They are also advocating for a WHMIS 2015 requirement that all asbestos-containing products are accompanied by safety data sheets that warn workers of the presence of asbestos as well as the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the prior informed consent (PIC) list of hazardous materials under the Rotterdam Convention.

More than 2,000 Canadians die every year from diseases caused by asbestos exposure, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, according to the Occupational Cancer Research Centre. Death from mesothelioma increased 60 per cent between 2000 and 2012, according to Statistics Canada. Internationally, the World Health Organization reports more than 100,000 asbestos-related deaths per year. 

"There is absolutely no justifiable reason to delay a full ban on asbestos. Indeed, Canadian lives are depending on it," said Ontario Federation of Labour president Chris Buckley. "It is time to start listening to the resounding scientific evidence, it is time to start listening to the tragic stories of the families of fallen workers, and it is time to make workplace health and safety a national priority."

The national Day of Mourning, celebrated annually on April 28, honours the workers whose lives have been lost, who have been injured or disabled on the job or who suffer from occupational disease.

"The Day of Mourning is a somber reminder of the deadly consequences of unsafe work," said Gareth Jones, acting president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). "We are also reminded that each worker death is a loss not only for their families, but also for their co-workers, friends and communities. We have to work together to protect the health and safety of workers and prevent further tragedies."

In 2014, 919 workplace fatalities were recorded in Canada, according to the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada. This figure is up from 902 in 2013.

The Canadian Labour Congress first recognized the Day of Mourning in 1984. In 1990, this day became a national observance with the passing of the Workers Mourning Day Act, and on April 28, 1991, the federal government officially proclaimed the national Day of Mourning.

Canada was the first nation to recognize the Day of Mourning and since 1984, acknowledgement of the day has spread to about 100 countries and is now observed throughout the world.