Report claims school custodians in Ontario exposed to asbestos, lack training and protection

Photo: JaruekChairak/iStockphoto

Toronto — Approximately two-thirds of custodial workers in Ontario public schools may be exposed to asbestos-containing material, and some may not be aware of their risk or have the skills to work safely in areas where asbestos is present, according to a recently released report from the Occupational Cancer Research Center.

Researchers from the center surveyed 527 janitorial or maintenance service employees at Ontario schools in March 2017. They assessed the workers’ concerns over asbestos, as well as their awareness of its presence in their school and related management plans and training.

Results show that 67% of the respondents said asbestos-containing material was in their school. Further, 24% reported they had direct contact with the materials, while 66% had indirect contact. However, only 59% said they would be able to identify the materials.

Of the workers who came in contact with asbestos-containing materials, only 63% said they used personal protective equipment.


According to NIOSH, handling asbestos can cause it to separate into microscopic particles that can be inhaled. Inhalation of these particles can lead to the development of several life-threatening diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health estimates that 233,000 people die from work-related asbestos exposure annually worldwide.

OCRC recommends that employers maintain an up-to-date asbestos management plan and ensure workers have access to the documents. In addition, custodial employees should treat materials installed before 1980 as asbestos-containing materials because visual inspections are not always conclusive. Workers should review their employer’s policy and ask for training before handling these materials.

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