The Agriculture Union has joined the entire health and safety community in applauding the decision by the federal government to ban asbestos and asbestos-containing products by 2018.

It is to this country’s collective shame that this action was not taken years ago. For decades, there has been irrefutable scientific proof linking asbestos fibres to a variety of cancers. Exposure to the mineral has long been a leading cause of workplace-related deaths.

The Agriculture Union has been calling on successive Liberal and Conservative governments to take this common-sense step for years. Howard Willems, a former National Executive member of our union, was a long-time crusader for greater health and safety protection on the job.

Tragically, Howard succumbed to mesothelioma – an asbestos-related cancer of the lungs – in November 2012. He had been exposed while inspecting processing plants undergoing renovations.

Once diagnosed, Howard took on the cause of identifying and expanding the registry of federal buildings containing asbestos. In his own home province of Saskatchewan, his efforts resulted in passage ‘Howard’s Law’, legislation requiring all buildings in Saskatchewan containing asbestos to be reported in a public registry.

Now, the federal government will create new regulations to ban the import, export and manufacturing of asbestos, establish new federal workplace health and safety rules and enhance the registry for federally owned buildings.

So, in memory of Howard and the other victims of preventable asbestos-related diseases, the Agriculture Union will continue to press the Liberal government to establish an expert panel to make recommendations for implementation of the long-overdue ban.