Quebec announces limited action to protect workers from asbestos harm

Mon, Aug 31, 2020


Kathleen Ruff,

The Quebec government has officially announced that it will change its law on occupational health and safety so as to make the asbestos exposure standard for workers ten times more rigorous. This is good news that is long overdue.

The bad news, however, is that the government intends to exclude asbestos fibres that are less than 5 micrometres in length.

In its report released this month the independent Commission of Inquiry into the health risks of asbestos called on the Quebec government to respect scientific evidence and take immediate action to make Quebec’s asbestos exposure regulation ten times stricter, i.e. to change it from 1 f/cc (1 asbestos fibre per cubic centimetre of air) to 0.1 f/cc, as is the law set by the Canadian government and other countries. The Commission noted that scientific evidence shows that fibres less than 5 micrometres also cause harm to health. The Commission called on the Quebec government to examine the need to change its regulation so as to comply with the most recent scientific evidence and include asbestos fibres less than 5 micrometres in length.

The government is currently refusing to comply with that recommendation.

What is worse is that Quebec’s Occupational Health and Safety Commission (Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, CNESST), whose purpose is supposed to be to protect workers’ health, is opposing the Commission’s recommendation to include shorter asbestos fibres. A spokesperson for the CNESST argued against the Commission’s recommendation, stating that by refusing to include shorter fibres, Quebec is in harmony with the the United States. The United States is an outlier among western countries in rejecting the scientific evidence on asbestos and refusing to ban it. Indeed, US President Donald Trump is such an enthusiastic denier of asbestos harm that Russian asbestos mines have used his picture and name to help sell their asbestos.

It is shocking that the CNESST wishes Quebec to model itself on a country that denies the science on asbestos and continues to allow its use.

The CNESST has for decades failed to protect Quebec workers from asbestos harm. It has been, and continues to be, under the influence of the asbestos industry and privileges industry interests ahead of workers’ lives.

The CNESST also fails to protect asbestos victims who appeal to it for help. Workers dying because of having been exposed to asbestos have had to face employers who for years hid workers’ chest x-rays that showed asbestos disease and refused to pay compensation awarded by the CNESST. Thanks to the courage and determination of a woman, Sylvie Provost, whose father, Réjean Provost, died from asbestosis in 2017, a Quebec labour court has ordered the company her father worked for, Kronos, to pay $160,000 to the family. There was asbestos everywhere in the factory, even in dust samples taken from the floor, stated the judgment. Other workers from the company have sought compensation, so far without success.

How many more workers are dying without support? asks Sylvie Provost.

80% of deaths from occupational disease recognized by the CNESST are caused by asbestos exposure.

It is time for the Quebec government to show integrity and leadership on the asbestos issue and fully support the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, which will prevent more asbestos deaths and provide some justice to asbestos victims.

, ,

Leave a Reply