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Asbestos is a mineral that can be crumbled, pulverized or powdered when it is dry (friable) and will result in small fibres and clumps of fibres being released into the air. Inhaling airborne asbestos fibres poses a serious health concern and can cause:

Many factors will determine how the exposure to asbestos will affect an individual such as the dose, duration, source, type of asbestos, and pre-existing health condition or smoking history (Smoking is considered to create a synergistic response with asbestos exposure. In other words, while both can cause lung cancer alone, together they increase the likelihood of it by more than double.). It is important to remember that it can take decades after the first exposure to asbestos fibres for the related cancer to develop.

Before 1990, asbestos was mainly used for insulating buildings and homes against cold weather, noise, and for fireproofing. If your work place was built before 1990, it is likely it contains some form of asbestos. Asbestos-containing material may be found sealed behind walls and floorboards, in the attic, or tightly bound in the original product (for example insulation around pipes). Exposure to airborne asbestos fibres will not occur if the asbestos-containing material is left undisturbed.

Currently, some building materials that contain asbestos in a non-friable form (not easily broken/crumble in to small pieces), such roofing shingles, house siding, and cement, are allowed to be used in new housing and small building construction by the National Building Code of Canada (NBC). The Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations reference the NBC for the construction or renovation of a building.


It takes very little asbestos to create a hazard. Working with or in proximity of friable asbestos-containing material can cause exposures that are dangerous to life and health. Examples include, but are not limited to:

Eliminating and controlling the hazard

A proper hazardous substance assessment by a qualified person must be used to determine the presence of any asbestos and the risks of the asbestos being disturbed (friable vs non-friable). This is especially important before entering an attic or crawl space and/or performing any types of renovation. The simple act of cutting/drilling asbestos-containing material may lead to asbestos fibres being released.

Only a qualified person with training and experience in working with asbestos should handle or remove asbestos containing materials and only in a controlled environment.

Legislative requirements

Employers must protect the health and safety of employees by preventing them from inhaling or coming into contact with asbestos fibres. To that end they must:

The following parts of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR) contain requirements for working with or near asbestos:

Additional resources

For further information, please contact the ESDC Labour Program office at 1-800-641-4049. The Labour Program website provides information on occupational health and safety topics such as: Right to Know, Right to refuse dangerous work, and Health and Safety Committees.

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