Asbestos exposure in schools


The primary goal of the study was to:

  • assess custodial workers’ awareness of asbestos presence and management in schools through an online survey of custodial workers in Ontario schools

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This study was initiated by the Ministry of Labour because of concerns about asbestos exposure in school buildings and the potential for increased risk of asbestos-related disease for custodial workers. Asbestos was widely used in Canada in the construction of public buildings including elementary and secondary schools. These buildings may have asbestos-containing materials (ACM) and although the exact amount is unknown, this may have created a potential hazard. If the ACM is not well managed or controlled, it may deteriorate and asbestos fibres may become airborne and settle onto surfaces. Asbestos fibres on surfaces are an indicator that asbestos is not controlled. An additional concern with settled dust containing asbestos is that routine housekeeping or maintenance work has the potential to expose workers. Little is known about how asbestos is managed in schools across the province.


We assessed custodial workers’ awareness of asbestos presence and management in schools through an online survey. All CUPE Ontario elementary and secondary school custodial and maintenance workers were invited via email to fill out the anonymous survey. The survey consisted of 26 yes or no, multiple choice and open-ended text response questions. The workers were asked about:

  • their school (size, region, age) and whether asbestos was present,
  • the work tasks they complete in their workplace
  • the asbestos management plan (program),
  • procedures in place to reduce their exposure in the workplace,
  • training they received to work with or around asbestos, and
  • questions or concerns they may have regarding asbestos in the workplace.

The online survey received 784 responses, of which 527 were eligible. Some of the key findings include:

  • Asbestos was reported as present in the majority of the respondents’ schools. Of the respondents who reported that they interacted with asbestos during the course of their work, only about half were able to recognize it.
  • The most commonly reported tasks performed were cleaning floors and dusting surfaces, both of which are unlikely to break intact ACM, but could disturb settled asbestos fibres in areas where ACM has deteriorated.
  • The majority of the respondents were aware that their school had an asbestos management plan, though only about half of them reported using this resource.

Funding for this study was received from the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

  • OCRC Report: Awareness of asbestos hazards in schools, asbestos management plans and training among Ontario school custodial workers

Research Team
Paul Demers
Tracy Kirkham
OCRC and University of Toronto
Kim Litchfield
Public Services Health and Safety Association
Sheila Kalenge
Kim Finuliar-Beckford
Milena Agababova
University of Toronto