Asbestos is no longer used in building construction. However, it can still rear its ugly head during renovations or demolitions – you need protection from its poisonous effects, and you may be surprised where else you might find it.

Asbestos insurance coverage, usually included with insurance products such as contractors’ pollution liability insurance, protects contractors against the risks and environmental liabilities associated with exposure to pollution. That includes asbestos while working on a covered job site and other workers likely to encounter it.

Insurance coverage for asbestos exposure and other pollutants should not be taken lightly, and it’s essential to understand the different types of asbestos, where asbestos has been used, and who needs asbestos insurance coverage.

Asbestos Used to Be Used Everywhere

There are six types of asbestos. Even though it became a heavily regulated substance more than 30 years ago – it’s been banned in Canada since 2018 – the hazardous material still accounts for about a third of Canadian workplace deaths. Moreover, it has caused roughly 500 mesothelioma deaths annually in Canada since 2010. That’s a compelling argument for asbestos insurance coverage.

A worker showering after doing asbestos removal work

The different types of asbestos vary by colour and use:

  • Chrysotile asbestos – sometimes known as white asbestos – was the most used type of asbestos and ended up in roofs, ceilings, walls, and floors, as well as the brake linings, pads, and gaskets of vehicles.
  • Crocidolite asbestos was blue and frequently used in insulation for steam engines and piping, along with spray-on coatings, plastics, and cement products.
  • Amosite asbestos was brown and the preferred type for pipe insulation, cement sheets, insulating board and other thermal insulation products.
  • Tremolite asbestos, also known as amphibole asbestos, was a different beast in that it’s a contaminant found in Chrysotile asbestos. It has been strongly linked to cases of malignant mesothelioma in the 1960s and 70s.
  • Anthophyllite is also classified as an amphibole. It is among the asbestos most likely to be inhaled because of its minuscule form. Like Tremolite, it was usually found as part of other asbestos forms, with trace amounts found in products such as talc.
  • Actinolite asbestos is a rarer form of asbestos and contains concentrated magnesium levels. It comes in many colours, including green, blue, white, and yellow, making it more challenging to identify. Produced in smaller quantities, it was rarely used in construction on its own, but many products contain high trace amounts. Actinolite was commonly used in children’s toys, sealants, drywall, and asbestos concrete.

Given the many types of asbestos, it can be hard to detect, but it’s something to be wary of, especially for contractors doing renovations and demolitions. Asbestos is hazardous when its tiny fibres become airborne wherever asbestos is used. When inhaled into the lungs, these fibres can cause a rare and deadly form of cancer – mesothelioma – which typically develops 25 to 40 years after exposure. Asbestos can also cause lung damage – asbestosis – in asbestos miners and industrial workers and contribute to other types of lung cancer.

It’s not clear how many buildings in Canada contain asbestos – before 1990, it was mainly used for insulating buildings and homes against cold weather and noise and fireproofing. Federal government departments in Canada now keep an inventory of buildings containing asbestos. In 2014, the Sir John Carling Building in Ottawa was demolished after being vacated due to asbestos and other concerns.

When found, there are three ways to handle asbestos:

  • Type 1 asbestos abatement is used when an assessment concludes all asbestos is in a “non-friable” form – it won’t release fibres into the air because the affected materials can be removed without cutting or power tools.
  • Type 2 is used when Type 1 materials must be broken or crushed to be removed, resulting in small amounts of friable asbestos. It means workers must wear appropriate personal protective equipment, seal the work area with plastic sheeting, and ensure negative air pressure to prevent asbestos fibres from escaping.
  • Type 3: In this situation, major work or large amounts of asbestos are involved, which means all the above precautions are necessary, as well as decontamination showers for workers.

While a construction worker may discover asbestos, removal should be done by trained and qualified experts wearing proper protection.

Who Needs Asbestos Insurance Coverage?

While contractors and handypeople who renovate or demolish buildings are the obvious candidates for asbestos insurance, several occupations should be covered by pollution liability insurance, including occupational hygienists, engineers, environmental consultants, claims response firms and restoration specialists.

And asbestos is just one of many reasons these occupations should be covered by pollution liability insurance. With climate change and environmental awareness hitting an all-time high in Canada, small business owners in every sector of the economy would be wise to have coverage in the event of a third-party pollution liability lawsuit.

If your business uses environmentally unsafe chemicals, you risk a third-party pollution liability lawsuit.

Contractors and subcontractors in the construction industry may need and require pollution insurance coverage if their work may affect the air quality or have environmental impacts at their job sites during a construction project or after completing it – that includes asbestos insurance.

You don’t have to be a construction company to need this coverage, either – hair salons, professional cleaning companies, or dry-cleaning services need pollution liability insurance, as do auto repair shops, garages, junkyards, and industrial manufacturers.

Protect Your Business and Customers

Whether it’s asbestos or another substance harmful to humans, such as mould or oil, because you’ve hit a pipeline, pollution liability protection includes asbestos cleanup costs, bodily injuries, or property damages caused by pollution or toxic substances produced during your work. However, a commercial general liability policy isn’t always enough to cover the customer’s medical expenses, your legal defence fees, and any court-ordered settlement or out-of-court settlement.

Fill out our application to get a free quote for your business’s insurance needs.

Reviewed by Aharshan Thangarasa, Team Lead, Contractors, Zensurance.

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About the Author: Gary Hilson

Gary Hilson has more than 20 years of experience writing about B2B enterprise technology. He has been published by EE Times, Network Computing, EBN Online, Computing Canada, Channel Daily News, and others. A Zensurance customer, when he’s not tapping on the keyboard, Gary collects comic books, attends live theatre, constructs Lego, and buys books he always intends to read.