As Canada’s population ages, so does it’s workforce. The amount of 65+ workers in Canada has increased by over 25% in the past four years, while at the same time, on the job injuries affect that same age group at a hugely disproportionate rate.
Of those injuries, over 40 percent of them are caused by asbestos-related illnesses, according to WorkSafe BC.
Like all workplace deaths, asbestos-related illnesses disproportionately affect older workers, and—according to Gina Vahlas, a WorkSafe BC Ergonomist—that’s not likely to change any time soon. Vahlas explained that, due to the rising cost of living and aging population, the retirement age could possibly switch to 70-75 years of age in the next couple years.
Did you know? Though workers aged 65 and older make up 4% of the workforce, but make up 55% of all workplace fatalities.
According to Worksafe BC, 75 people have died because of asbestos in the past 4 years.
Among the 75, 67 of them were 65 and above.
The Silent Killer: asbestos? motor vehicle accident? other diseases?
Asbestos is a popular mineral made up of tiny fibers that can get stuck in your lungs and cause serious health problems. To find out how asbestos can shorten your life expectancy, watch this video.
In most cases, we found that asbestos played a significant role in the deaths of at least 50% of workers.
Though both the total number of work-related deaths and percentage of deaths per worker in the province have decreased in the last twenty years, when looking at asbestos related injuries, it’s a different story. According to WorkSafe BC, confirmed workplace fatalities caused by mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses have more than doubled in the last 20 years, rising from 26 in 1997, to 70 in 2017.
Accounting for an increased total workforce, that’s still twice as many people dying now than were just two decades ago, and the number is only projected to rise further. It’s the leading cause of death in the workplace by far for all age groups, though hit the 65+ demographic particularly hard.
In BC, 318 asbestos-related deaths were reported for the years 2013 to 2017. 284 of those deaths were of people aged 65 years and older.
A known carcinogen, asbestos has been largely banned across the world; according to Asbestos Nation, an independent body which aims to spread awareness of the dangers associated with the material, 55 countries have banned it, including nearly every country in Western Europe. Of the holdouts, only a few western countries continue to use the product, including China, Russia, the United States, and Canada.
Canada has been discussing bans for years, and in October, Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, announced that asbestos use would be heavily limited by the end of 2018, though its use would continue in specific industries which have “no impact on human health.” Still, military, nuclear facilities, and chlor-alkali plants will be allowed to use asbestos for several years, and that’s something critics say will only add to the already increasing death-rate statistics of older workers in the country.