Workers back after asbestos scare at Sask. workplace safety office

Workers are back in the building following an asbestos scare that led to the evacuation of the downtown Regina offices of the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety.

90 labour ministry workers in Regina told to leave 1870 Albert St. building

More than 90 staff members of the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety were evacuated from the Regina offices at 1870 Albert St. Tuesday morning. They were back in the building on Wednesday afternoon. (CBC News)

Workers are back in the building following an asbestos scare that led to the evacuation of the downtown Regina offices of the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety.

About 90 government employees on three floors were told to leave the office Tuesday morning. Word that workers were back in the building was noted around 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The concern about asbestos arose from work that was done on the 6th floor of the building, at 1870 Albert St., days earlier.

Workers who were repairing a leak cut through a drain pipe. After that work was done and the area was cleaned up, it was determined that the pipe contained asbestos.

The ministry workers were suspicious even before tests of the material were done.

"It was odd-looking. It looked like it contained fibres," Mike Carr, a deputy minister who works in the building, told CBC News. "We were in a situation where both the maintenance contractor and the building owner was telling us there was no asbestos in the vicinity or building, period."

Officials said workers were told about the suspicious material and that a sample would be tested. The results, which were provided Tuesday, confirmed there was asbestos in the material and that was when the three floors were evacuated.

According to officials, the ministry had the air tested in the building and found there was no airborne asbestos.

The building isn't owned by the province and has a number of other tenants, including the federal passport office, a law office and Blue Cross.

Some of those offices, including the passport office, remained open.

Low risk to office workers, ministry says

Carr added that the risk was "very low according to the experts that we've been consulting with" for the government workers. 

However, two employees who were working on the pipe cleaned up the material without any protective gear, said Carr.

"We do have some concerns about that because quite frankly, it wasn't cleaned up in accordance with our requirements around cleaning up asbestos-containing material," Carr said. 

The building is where the Saskatchewan Asbestos Advisory Committee meets to advise the province on the dangers of asbestos.

'Loophole' in Sask. registry, advisor says

"I'm blown away that this incident happened," Jesse Todd, a member of the committee and a candidate for the NDP in the upcoming provincial election, said. 

Todd successfully lobbied for an asbestos registry in Saskatchewan, the first in Canada. Known as Howard's Law, Saskatchewan maintains an asbestos registry for provincially-owned buildings in the province.

In this case, the ministry of labour is a tenant in leased office space and there is no requirement for private properties owners to divulge information, if they even know about, relating to asbestos in their buildings.

Todd said the registry should be expanded to include all buildings accessed by the public.

"There's a big loophole in the system," Todd said. "We need to close that gap and expand on the regulations and expand on the registry."

Information about the asbestos scare was supposed to be released on Tuesday. The Ministry said it prepared a news release for Tuesday afternoon and sent it to the government's ​media services unit in ​executive council for approval.

Executive council said Wednesday there was an oversight the release did not get to reporters as planned.


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