Date: February, 2017
By: Randy Barkhouse, B.Sc., P.Geo.

 Asbestos Surveys: Cutting corners can cost you!

Asbestos warning sign.

Having completed, directed and managed many Asbestos Surveys at various types of commercial, industrial, institutional and multi-tenant residential buildings over the last 15 years what continues to amaze me is the lackadaisical attitude of some building owners and consultants. Often the building owners know that they need an asbestos survey but they do not know, or have not been advised explicitly by their consultant on what they should get with that survey so they think that doing as little as possible to try and comply with the applicable Provincial regulations is the best approach. But in Ontario and some other provinces, for example, there are a set number of samples that must be collected and analysed in a building based on the type and amount of the building materials that may contain asbestos, so you can’t just test one room and move on. That’s like making a par on one hole of the golf course and declaring you parred the entire round.  When you are dealing with potentially serious contaminants like asbestos, you can’t take short cuts.

Why don’t owners take asbestos more seriously?

The asbestos consultant business is a highly competitive one so many consultants fight over the smallest of projects which unfortunately commoditizes them based on price rather than quality. Taking as few samples as possible to “comply” with the regulation and then assuming materials not sampled to contain asbestos based on type of material and suspected age (used/applied prior to asbestos bans in each jurisdiction) is a common theme in these consultant’s reports.

A room from an abandoned hospital building being prepped for asbestos removal and cleanup.

What this invariably means is that each time a building owner wants to complete work/renovation in these areas where“assumed to contain asbestos” (but not confirmed through sampling) materials are present, the owner will be required to call a consultant and get this material sampled to ensure the safety of the workers. Sure, it may only cost $1,000 for a consultant to come by and collect samples of this material and give you the results for this project, but what if you complete 8 – 10 small projects a year? Installing a conduit through a wall, removing damaged drywall, replacing a window, replacing vinyl tile, for example. I am not an accountant, but perhaps if I paid $3,000 – $5,000 for a proper and thorough asbestos survey of my building in the first place instead of the $1,200 blue light “compliance” specials done many times through the year, I could save thousands of dollars annually and have no delays in construction or redevelopment.

This same scenario of project budget over-runs and construction delays occurs when the owner clearly indicates they plan to renovate, thus they need a more rigorous and detailed construction or demolition level survey, yet a consultant will price out and complete a compliance level asbestos survey to win the job. This of course, routinely results in delays with the consultant having to return to sample materials that should have been sampled initially, or additional costs for materials being treated as asbestos containing, whether they contain or not. Like the old saying: they are being ‘penny wise but pound foolish’.

Person removing asbestos in protective workwear.

Unfortunately, I see these scenarios play out often. Being an informed building owner or manager and retaining a quality consultant who openly and clearly explains the benefits and value of completing the proper type of survey for your property and its future use should be the priority. Not to mention the health and safety of the workers and contractors you employ who expect to work in an asbestos free environment.

If you are looking for peace of mind to advance your building project and want the survey and assessment work done right the first time, then call us at XCG Consulting Limited. We are Expert People. Better Decisions.

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Randy Barkhouse, B.Sc., P.Geo.
Business Development Leader/ Senior Project Manager

Randy has worked in the field of environmental consulting since 1990. He is a registered Professional Geoscientist and recognized as a Qualified Person (QP) as defined by Ontario Regulation 153/04. His primary areas of expertise is managing and directing environmental due diligence programs and environmental expenditures analysis for mergers and acquisitions, divestitures and other portfolio real estate transactions in the private sector. He has been a Principal and Director at a national consulting firm providing environmental due diligence for several national accounts including lending institutions, private equity funds and legal firms for real estate transactions across Canada and throughout the United States. Randy is the Business Development Lead for the Hazardous Materials Management Group at XCG, directing and managing a wide range of designated substance surveys, asbestos and mould surveys, and Property/Building Condition Assessments for many industrial, retail and commercial clients.