Mitigating risk: When to implement an Asbestos Management Program

How program can reduce exposure, ensure compliance, and help with investigating occupational illnesses

Mitigating risk: When to implement an Asbestos Management Program

“How you educate your workers on safety will determine the success of a safety culture, and any program you bring in can then be successful,” says occupational health and safety expert, Ravi Hookoom.

Boasting a career that spans the industrial, hospitality and health services sectors, and an MBA in Health and Safety Leadership, Hookoom has actively promoted health and safety initiatives, awareness and training for various multinationals over the span of the last 10 years.

Hookoom has first-hand knowledge of the benefits of an effective Asbestos Management Program. Currently in the role of Safety Specialist within Ontario’s health sector, Hookoom oversees a dedicated Asbestos Management Program, ensuring that proper training, inspection and corrective measures are carried out, from a safety perspective.

The perception of risk

It has been ingrained in many Canadians to automatically associate asbestos with danger. “[Asbestos] is so distorted in the general media that we always report bad things,” says Hookoom.

In reality, assessing possible risks of asbestos depends largely on the form it takes. According to Hookoom, there are three main forms of asbestos: clumped, fibrous and powdered. If you find a clump of asbestos, “it’s really nothing”. The clumped fibers themselves are, again, “less of a risk…because when you breathe in the fibers that you can see, your body is equipped to filter them out through the nostrils, cilia and mucus in the trachea.”

Be vigilant of floating particles. “If it reaches a dust [form], and you see dust in the air and floating, and dust in the light as well, then this would be an issue, because it’s so fine that when you breathe in, your system does not filter it out.”

Given this, Hookoom believes “to bring awareness to managers to the severity of exposures would be one that we need to focus on, to make sure they understand the work environment that they are working in, the type of hazards they're being exposed to on a day-to-day basis, and what steps they need to be taking to prevent injuries or illnesses”.

Who should consider an Asbestos Management Program?

It is no secret that asbestos risks arise primarily in the construction and demolition sectors. Previously used in insulation, fire-retardant products and glue for tiles, among other products, asbestos can be an unexpected surprise on a job site.

When deciding whether an Asbestos Management Program is the right approach, Hookoom says: “Each employer needs to evaluate the risk of asbestos in the workplace and based on those risks, determine if they needed a proper program or [whether to] incorporate it in their Hazardous Management Program.” He adds, “If [asbestos] is a big serious issue, then have a separate Hazardous Management Program for it.”

Advantages of an Asbestos Management Program

Hookoom points to two clear advantages of a dedicated program. “The main advantage is that you're really ensuring that people are not exposed… to hazards that can cause an injury or illness over time.”

Secondly, he stresses the importance of record-keeping. “If there is an issue with the Ministry and you go to arbitration or to the court, you have everything documented.” He adds, “You can also go back to see what you've done and then make improvements.”

A defined Asbestos Management Program further guarantees compliance with Ontario’s Health and Safety Act and Regulations 278/05 Designated Substance- Asbestos on Construction projects and in buildings and repair operations.

Moreover, a dedicated asbestos program can help in investigating occupational illnesses that may be related to asbestos exposure. “Authorities such as Workplace Compensation Boards and Provincial Ministry of Labour may require the documentation under the program to determine due diligence on behalf of the employer,” explains Hookoom.

Establishing a “culture of safety”

“I believe we need to train everyone at every level to have a safety mindset for themselves, and for everyone around. You see something, you do something about it right away. You don't wait for an incident to happen,” says Hookoom.

“You can use any management system, or you can write one, in itself, that delineates everybody's responsibilities, but if they don't discharge those responsibilities, the management system is redundant.”

Hookoom asserts that awareness, education and training—at every level—are the true keys to establishing a “culture of safety.”