Asbestos drives rise in workplace deaths

Exposure to asbestos accounted for about 70 per cent of a rise in workplace-related deaths in Canada, says a report released Tuesday.

Exposure to asbestos accounted for about 70 per cent of arisein workplace-related deaths in Canada, says a report released Tuesday.

The study, Five Deaths a Day: Workplace Fatalities in Canada, 1993-2005, found that workplace fatalities are climbing — for example, climbing to 1,097 in 2005 compared to 958 in 2004.

Out of the deaths in 2005, 491 were accidents while 557 were caused by diseases related to occupation.

More than30 per cent, or 340, of these deaths were asbestos-related — a bigjump fromfewer than 60 asbestos-related deaths a decade earlier, according to the study, conducted by the Ottawa-based non-profit organization Centre for Study of Living Standards.

Inhalation of asbestos dust and fibre can lead to asbestosis, a respiratory disease, pleural plaques, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a malignant cancer whose only known cause is exposure to asbestos.

"We are in the midst of an epidemic of work-related mesothelioma cases," warned Larry Stoffman, the chair of the National Committee on Environmental and Occupational Exposure in the 2005 report Insight on Cancer. His comment was cited in the Five Deaths a Day report.

Steve Mahoney, the chair of the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, said Canada mustfocus more on prevention if it is to stop the rise in workplace-related illnesses and accidents.

"In a country and a province as modern as Canada and Ontario, to have this number of incidents is unacceptable," Mahoney said.

Ottawa urged to ban asbestos sales

Canada is one of the largest miners and exporters of asbestos in the world, despite bans on the product in some other countries.

All of that mining occurs in Quebec, where one-third of work-related deaths are attributed to asbestos exposure each year.

"Canada's promotion and sale of asbestos worldwide compromises our ability to be taken seriously regarding cancer promotion, and exports environmental exposure and cancer to those countries with the least resources to control them," Stoffman warned in Insight on Cancer, which was published by Cancer Care Ontario and the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division, and cited in Five Deaths a Day.

"Transition programs for mining communities are needed and the sale and use of this potent carcinogen should be banned."

Many workers exposed

The International Labour Organization said100,000 workers die each year in the workplace from asbestos-related diseases.

It's not only workers in mining industries that are at risk from exposure to asbestos. Until the 1970s the product was used in insulation, ventilation systems, concrete and other commercial products.

Automotive mechanics may be exposed to asbestos in brake pads and construction workers may find it in insulation on pipes and inside walls and ceilings.

As a result, workers in the trades and transport industry have the highest number of deaths, accounting for almost half of all work-related fatalities from 1996 to 2004.

Asbestos deaths haven't yet peaked

The study reports that asbestos-related deaths are not expected to peak until 2010 to 2020.

"While we suspect that most of the deaths due to asbestos trace back to exposure prior to the implementation and enforcement of stricter controls, due to the long latency periods of asbestos-related diseases, it is likely that the number of work-related deaths has not yet peaked," the report states.

Symptoms may not appear until 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure.

Workers who were exposed before the implementation of safety measures in the 1960s and 1970s are only suffering the effects now.