Dealing With Asbestos In Commercial Renovation Projects | Date: 01/03/2017

When you're planning a renovation project for your industrial or commercial building there are many elements to contend with. Planning, designing, permitting, and what about what's in those walls? Sometimes existing buildings have hidden surprises including the building materials used in the past. Take asbestos for instance.

Asbestos made the news recently in light of a proposed Canadian ban on importing and using products containing asbestos. Even though the use and manufacture of asbestos-containing building products in Ontario was discontinued in the eighties, it is still a cause for concern. The reason it's significant is because occupational cancer (not traumatic injury) is the leading cause of work-related deaths. Yes, you read that right. What's more, most of the compensated claims for deaths from occupational cancer and the increased incidence of mesothelioma have been attributed to past asbestos exposure. (see full report)

Although we stopped using asbestos in the construction industry, it's still in use in some products, such as brake pads and of course, it exists in some older building structures. For this reason, there is still the potential risk of asbestos exposure during building renovations, maintenance and demolition. This is why we have regulations and established practices for safeguarding workers and the public at large.

Before we begin a renovation we ask the project owner if they have a DSR (Designated Substance Report) as it is their responsibility to provide this info to anyone who will be working on their building. The DSR must be prepared and completed by a qualified testing agency. (We usually use Pinchin Ltd., who have great seminars and educational material.) The DSR covers asbestos as the most “famous” (infamous?) hazardous product BUT there are 11 designated substances in total. Some of these (in bold) we see more often than others:

  • Acrylonitrile
  • Arsenic
  • Asbestos (e.g., pipe insulation, boiler casing/insulation, exterior window caulking, old floor tiles, ceiling tiles, some types of conventional roofing, drywall compound, zonolite insulation, to name a few!) 
  • Benzene (eg., petroleum products and some solvents)
  • Coke oven emissions
  • Ethylene oxide
  • Isocyanates
  • Lead (e.g., old paint, old solder and it is used in sheet form for x-ray screening )
  • Mercury (e.g., light ballasts, thermostats)
  • Silica (e.g., concrete, masonry)
  • Vinyl Chloride

The presence of the designated substances is verified by sampling and testing in a lab.

We’ve probably run into substances from the entire list, more or less, at some point in our history.  It is our responsibility to share the DSR with all workers and subtrades on our site.

Workers are responsible to read and understand any requirements.  The DSR spells out the level of hazard and the required remediation; i.e., not all asbestos is removed in the same manner.  Also if a worker uncovers any material they suspect may be a designated substance and it wasn’t noted in the report (perhaps buried in a wall), they are not to disturb the substance and the testing agency is to come back in and sample/test.

Our team is trained and qualified to properly handle a number of these designated substances. For products outside our expertise, we work with reliable contractors to control exposure and manage a project to a safe and successful conclusion.

If you're considering a renovation or building maintenance project on an older, existing structure, get in touch. We're happy to discuss your needs and work with you on taking your project from the vision stage through permitting and final construction.

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