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B.C. company fined $157K for 'high-risk' school asbestos removal

Canstar Restorations has been handed a hefty fine for unsafe asbestos removal at an unnamed school in Langley, B.C.
A restoration firm has been fined more than $157,000 for high-risk violations involving asbestos at a school in Langley, B.C. | Simon McGill / Getty Images

A fire and flood restoration company has been fined more than $157,000 for several “high-risk violations” when it removed asbestos-laden insulation from a school in Langley, B.C.

The penalty, handed to Canstar Restorations GP Inc. June 29, came after the company was contracted to carry out restoration work at Walnut Grove Secondary School after there was a flood in the drama room, according to an inspection report seen by Glacier Media.

In a summary of its findings, WorkSafeBC said the firm “failed to take the necessary precautions to protect workers.”

According to the inspection report, school staff and teachers were “in and out of the drama room” while the restoration work was in progress, and the adjacent hallway, storage room and cafeteria may have been affected.

Langley School District 35 spokesperson Joanne Abshire confirmed the renovations were carried out in one of its schools in March 2023, and that WorkSafeBC requested the district “conduct testing in certain sections of the school.”

“Out of an abundance of caution the District went above and beyond the required directions from WorkSafeBC and decided to test all learning spaces,” said Abshire in a statement to Glacier Media. “The results from the report indicated the school was cleared for occupancy for students and staff.”

Analysis of 90 samples taken throughout the school showed “no safety concerns,” according to Abshire.

Canstar Restorations was not immediately available for comment. According to its website, the Coquitlam-based company has 10 offices across B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Interior and Alberta. It says it carries out a vast range of post-disaster restoration work, from storm, water and fire damage to mould removal, flood response and “hazardous and trauma cleanup.”

“Over the years, building construction has included a large number of materials that are now known to be hazardous; asbestos, and silica, just to name a few. We can remove these for you, in turn, removing the associated risk,” states the company on its website.

But a WorkSafeBC inspection of the site determined the firm did not adequately instruct and train its workers in the removal of asbestos-containing materials. The company did not use appropriate safe working procedures, and workers failed to wear respiratory gear to protect them from the carcinogenic material, found inspectors for B.C.'s Workers' Compensation Board.

Further, inspectors found no negative air unit was set up and HVAC vents were not sealed during the removal of the asbestos-containing insulation. Before starting their work, the firm also failed to ensure it had secured all the openings at the site “to prevent the release of asbestos fibres into other areas,” noted the summary.

“These were all high-risk violations,” stated WorkSafeBC.

Asbestos remains top cause of workplace deaths in B.C.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous silicate material that for years was used as a primary ingredient in roofing, thermal and electrical insulation, and cement pipes, among other uses.

When disturbed during construction or restoration work, the tiny particles can be inhaled into the lungs where they act as shards of glass. The impact of exposure often isn't seen until decades later — the latency period between exposure and life-threatening lung and ovarian cancer — as well as mesothelioma, a rare cancer affecting the lining of organs — tends to extend to 30 years or longer.

The UBC-run CAREX Canada (CARcinogen EXposure) estimates roughly 235,000 Canadians are exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Based on past exposures, that leads to about 1,900 lung cancers and 430 mesotheliomas each year.

In B.C., exposure to asbestos is the number one cause of workplace death, playing a role in 61 out of 181 incidents in 2022, according to provincial data.

This year, amendments to the Workers Compensation Act made B.C. the first jurisdiction in Canada to require contractors removing asbestos to be licensed. It's not clear if those changes played a role in the penalty issued to Canstar Restorations.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Langley School District. It is, in fact, School District 35.