Asbestos FAQ

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that was added to building materials to give them strength, provide fire protection and chemical resistance.  This has resulted in asbestos being used in over 3000 different products.

While it was banned in the 1970’s, asbestos was a widely used material in commercial buildings, schools, homes and machinery until 1990.  This means asbestos is common in the general environment; however, working directly with asbestos containing materials (ACM) can give personal exposure to airborne asbestos that are much higher than regulatory exposure limits.

Are all products containing asbestos considered a health risk?

A material is only a health risk when asbestos fibres are released from the material and become airborne.  Asbestos materials that can be easily crumbled by hand pressure have the greatest risk of releasing asbestos fibres.

SFU has put measures in place to ensure that possible asbestos related exposures are eliminated or are as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA).  The University Asbestos Exposure Control Plan was developed to ensure proper protocols for handling asbestos are in place and worker and occupants are not exposed to airborne asbestos fibres.

What is the SFU Asbestos Exposure Control Plan?

The SFU Asbestos Exposure Control Plan was developed by the Environmental Health & Research Safety department in consultation with key stakeholders such as Facilities Services and Residence and Housing.  The mandate of the Plan is to identify, assess and control any potential health hazard caused by the presence of asbestos in SFU buildings.  The primary focus of the plan is to eliminate accidental worker, student, and contractor exposure to asbestos fibres and to ensure the health and safety of building occupants and visitors.  This is achieved by identifying asbestos containing materials, eliminating or encapsulating it where applicable, training and educating workers whose work activities have a potential to disturb ACM and raising awareness of ACM for all members of the university community.

Where are Asbestos Containing Materials
(ACM) found at SFU? 

Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) are primarily found in:

  • Floor tiles
  • Cement textured coatings on ceilings and as overspray above ceilings
  • Drywall joint compound
  • Fumehood linings and ductwork
  • Cores of fire doors
  • Building and underground piping systems
  • Insulation on pipes, pipe elbows and boilers
  • Board backings on radiators

What should all members of the university community know about asbestos?

  • Be aware that there is still asbestos present on campus and it may be found in the buildings you occupy.
  • Become familiar with SFU’s Asbestos Exposure Control Plan.
  • Be aware that if asbestos is in-tact and in good condition that it does not pose a health concern.
  • Refrain from damaging floors, walls, ceilings and piping systems that could possibly contain asbestos.
  • Do not rip items off walls or ceilings.
  • Inform your Supervisor/Department Manager and EHRS if you notice damaged building materials such as floor tiles, walls, ceilings or pipe insulation.  

What if there is an asbestos abatement project in my area?

All asbestos abatement work at SFU is conducted by a qualified contractor in accordance with all WorkSafeBC regulatory requirements.  In addition, a third party, qualified consultant reviews work procedures, conducts inspections and collects air samples to confirm that all safe work procedures are strictly adhered to.  A final visual inspection and air clearance sampling are also conducted prior to re-occupancy of the work area.

Which buildings at SFU have asbestos in them?

There are a number of Burnaby Campus buildings that have asbestos in them. This summer a new database will be made available to the SFU community that will allow for searches of locations on campus with asbestos. In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding asbestos in a particular building please contact Environmental Health and Research Safety at 778-782-4978 or 778-782-3011.

How do I know if asbestos is present?

Locations on campus known to have asbestos containing materials are often identified with a red or black ‘A’ with a circular border and are primarily found in floor tiles, fume-hood linings and ductwork, cement-textured coatings on ceilings, insulation on pipes, pipe elbows and boilers, or in building and underground piping systems.  Please note that asbestos-containing floor tiles and drywall are not labelled.

A new internal database will be available to anyone with an SFU username this summer and a re-inventory of locations with asbestos on campus will be conducted this summer.

Why doesn’t SFU have asbestos removed from all its buildings?

Asbestos is removed whenever possible during building renovations or through routine building maintenance projects. Undisturbed, the presence of asbestos is not a hazard to the campus community and the cost to remove it from all buildings would be prohibitive.

Why is SFU sharing information about asbestos in buildings? 

SFU recognized the opportunity to update the campus community on asbestos management and procedures as a re-inventory of locations with asbestos will begin this summer (2017). Additionally, we wanted to let the community know about a new database that will be accessible to the campus community that shows the locations of asbestos across campus.

The internal audit also provided an opportunity to follow up with Strand Hall staff and Facilities Services staff.

Why was an Audit Report done this year on asbestos in Strand Hall?

In April 2016, on the 3000 Level of Strand Hall, it came to the University’s attention that routine maintenance work involving the asbestos ceiling tiles were performed without safe work procedures in place. The Internal Audit Report identified that some renovation projects involving ceiling tile may also have been performed without safe work procedures (the tiles were removed completely in October 2016).

The Audit Report provided an opportunity to do a thorough review of asbestos management procedures looking at four key areas:

  • Identification of asbestos containing materials
  • Informing workers of the presence of asbestos
  • Educating and training workers on safe work procedures, and
  • Management of incidents and notification.

These areas will be addressed in the update to the Asbestos Exposure Control Plan later this year and this summer the re-inventory process will begin of locations on campus that contain asbestos (known or newly identified).

To read the Audit Report on Strand Hall, go here.

When the Asbestos Exposure Control Plan last updated and what was updated in it?

The last update of the Plan took place in 2016 and it will be updated again this year to include improvements around clarified roles and responsibilities, training, auditing protocols, notifications and guidelines for more frequent re-inspections of asbestos containing materials.

What are the health risks of asbestos?

To read about the health risks of asbestos visit the Government of Canada’s website here.

What should I do if I believe there is an asbestos hazard in my work place?

If at any time you are concerned about potential exposure to asbestos or discover that building material has been disturbed that may contain asbestos please follow these simple steps:

  • Leave the area immediately
  • Notify your supervisor
  • Contact Facilities Services (778-782-3582) and Environmental Health & Research Safety (778-782-4978 or 778-782-3011)

What is the WorkSafeBC Exposure Registry Program and how do I register?

Due to the latency and often long periods of exposure required for the onset of some occupational diseases, including asbestos, WorkSafeBC has created the exposure registry as a way for workers, employers, and others to register a worker's potential exposure to a harmful substance or agent or work.

Please go here for more information on the WorkSafe BC Exposure Registry Program.

If I have concerns regarding asbestos exposure, who should I contact?

If you are concerned that you may have come into contact with asbestos, please contact both:

  • Facilities Service Desk: 778-782-3582
  • Environmental Health and Research Safety: 778-782-4978 or 778-782-3011