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WCB highlights danger of asbestos exposure

Richmond, B.C. , February 24, 2005 — Nearly one-third of the fatal claims accepted by the Workers' Compensation Board in 2003 were the result of exposure to asbestos. More than half of these deaths occurred to workers employed in construction-related industries. The total financial cost for asbestos-related claims in 2003 was more than $12 million.

In the ten-year period 1994 to 2003 almost two-thirds (335 of 513) of the fatal occupational disease claims accepted by the WCB were the result of asbestos exposure. These claims, resulting from exposures many years ago, are increasing each year and the number is not expected to peak until between 2015 and 2020.

"At the WCB we see the impact on human suffering and the financial burden every day," said Al Johnson, WCB Regional Director of Construction. "The really tragic part is we know that with proper planning prior to working with asbestos containing materials, diseases resulting from asbestos exposure are preventable."

That's one of the reasons why the WCB, in partnership with the BC Cancer Agency, the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association, the Hazardous Materials Association and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, has produced Asbestos Hazards When Renovating Older Homes — a general information brochure that provides tips for employers, workers and homeowners on what to do before beginning renovation or demolition work.

"A record $5 billion will be spent on home renovations and improvements this year in B.C.," said Peter Simpson, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association, some of whose member companies do asbestos product removal. "If owners of homes built prior to the early 1980s are contemplating renovations, they should protect their investment and their health by ensuring their renovator can identify the presence of asbestos in the home, is qualified to remove it safely and is registered with the WCB."

Asbestos can be found in many areas of people's older homes. It was frequently used in roof felt and shingles, as blown in insulation such as vermiculite, as soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings and as insulation for ducting and water heaters.

Rick Gallagher, head of the Cancer Control Research Program at the BC Cancer Agency said, "Exposure to asbestos can cause a number of serious chronic diseases including asbestosis, pleural mesothelioma and some lung cancers. Mesothelioma is a lethal disease, and our best hope for reducing incidence of this cancer is through prevention. We currently see between 60 and 70 patients with mesothelioma a year, virtually all of them have been exposed to asbestos, most often years ago. It is critically important to ensure good asbestos-handling practices and proper use of protective equipment among workers today in order to reduce deaths from this disease in the future."

The WCB will be distributing the asbestos hazard brochure and providing information and materials for homeowners, employers and workers at WCB booth #2074 at the BC Home and Garden Show scheduled from February 23-27, 2005. These materials are also available to download at no cost on the WCB Construction Health and Safety Centre.

The Workers' Compensation Board is a provincial statutory agency governed by a Board of Directors that serves about two million workers and approximately 175,000 employers. The WCB was born out of a compromise between B.C.'s workers and employers in 1917 where workers gave up the right to sue their employers or fellow workers for injuries on the job in return for a no-fault insurance program fully paid for by employers. The WCB is committed to a safe and healthy workplace and to providing return-to-work rehabilitation and legislated compensation benefits to workers injured as a result of their employment.

For more information please contact:

For further information contact:
Gladys Johnsen
WCB Public Affairs Manager,
Prevention Division
604 214-5441 or toll-free in B.C. at 1 888 621-7233, local 5441