Hazard summary

Asbestos in aftermarket replacement brake pads poses an increased risk of asbestos-related disease for auto brake mechanics.

This resource does not replace the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Health and safety inspectors apply and enforce these laws based on the facts they find in the workplace.


Asbestos was historically used as a friction material in brake linings, disc brake pads and clutch facings in vehicles because of its unique fire resistance and wear properties. With an increase in the awareness of the health risks associated with asbestos and introduction of specific occupational health and safety legislation to address these hazards in the early 1980s, the manufacturing of asbestos-containing friction materials, such as brake pads, in Ontario ceased, as did the use of the asbestos-containing products generally.

For many years the use of asbestos-containing friction products was mostly considered to be phased out in Ontario's automotive industry. This however has changed with recent reports of aftermarket brake pads containing asbestos being imported into Canada. According to Statistics Canada reports, more than $2.6 million worth of brake pads containing asbestos entered Canada in 2011, with more than half imported into Ontario.

The presence of asbestos in aftermarket brake pads poses an increased risk of exposure to hazardous concentrations of asbestos dust during the maintenance and repair of asbestos-containing friction materials for auto brake mechanics. Principal sources of asbestos exposure occur during the removal of dust from brake drums and assemblies and when linings are machined before installation.

Health effects

Asbestos is dangerous to work with and can cause occupational diseases, including respiratory problems, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

For many years asbestos has been recognized as a health hazard for workers performing work in asbestos mining, processing and installation of asbestos products. Several serious, debilitating diseases that often end in death have been linked to the inhalation of fine asbestos fibres. For each disease, there is a period of latency, from 10 to 40 or more years, between first exposure to asbestos and the appearance of the disease.

Auto brake mechanics are known to be especially at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.

Hazard locations

All automotive and truck repair garages and brake repair shops.

Legislative/regulatory requirements

The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MLTSD) considers all potential worker exposures to asbestos to be a serious workplace hazard.

As a general workplace practice, MLTSD encourages the substitution of hazardous products by those that are less hazardous whenever possible.

Asbestos is a designated substance under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

Under OHSA, there are three regulations addressing occupational exposures to asbestos:

  1. O. Reg. 490/09 – Designated substances
  2. O. Reg. 278/05 Designated substance – Asbestos on construction projects and in buildings and repair operations.
  3. Regulation 833 – Control of exposure to biological or chemical agents.

The Regulation respecting Asbestos on Construction Projects and in Buildings and Repair Operations (O. Reg. 278/05) made under the OHSA sets out the requirements for repair operations involving vehicles, which likely includes brake repair operations. Unless the owner of the repair shop definitively knows that the brake pads do not contain asbestos or has an examination carried out pursuant to section 10(2) of O. Reg. 278/05 before the vehicle repair work is done then the pads must be assumed to contain asbestos.

For the purposes of O. Reg. 278/05, most brake repair operations will likely be classified as Type 1 or Type 2 operations. In addition to complying with all other applicable requirements of the Regulation, employers of a worker working in Type 2 operations must complete an asbestos work report in accordance with section 21 of O. Reg. 278/05 and submit it to the Provincial Physician at the Ministry. The asbestos work report is completed in a form obtained from the Ministry and includes the name of the worker performing the Type 2 operation and the number of hours of work which may expose the worker to asbestos containing material.

Examples of brake repair operations that may be classified as Type 1 operations are:

  1. The installation and removal of brake pads where they are installed or removed without being broken, cut, drilled, abraded, ground or sanded.
  2. The breaking, cutting, drilling, abrading, grinding or sanding of brake pads where they are wetted to control the spread of dust or fibres, and the work is done only by means of non-powered hand-held tools.

The measures and procedures that apply to Type 1 operations are set out in section 14 of O. Reg. 278/05. These required measures and procedures include:

  • The removal of any visible dust on the pad or drum with a damp cloth or a vacuum equipped with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Aerosol) filter before beginning the repair work.
  • Controlling the spread of asbestos dust by using measures that are appropriate to the repair work, including using a drop sheet that is impervious to asbestos (e.g., polyethylene) or other suitable material, which must not be reused and must be disposed of in an appropriate manner.
  • Not using compressed air to clean up or remove dust from any surface.
  • Not permitting eating, drinking, chewing or smoking in the work area.
  • The provision of an air-purifying half mask respirator with an N-100, R-100 or P-100 particulate filter where requested by a worker.

Brake repair operations which may be classified as Type 2 operations include:

  1. The breaking, cutting, drilling, abrading, grinding or sanding of the brake pads where they are not wetted to control the spread of dust or fibres, and the work is done only by means of non-powered hand-held tools.
  2. The breaking, cutting, drilling, abrading, grinding or sanding of the brake shoes where the work is done by means of power tools that are attached to dust-collecting devices equipped with HEPA filters.

The measures and procedures that apply to Type 2 operations are set out in sections 15 and 16 of O. Reg. 278/05. In general, the measures and procedures include those required for Type 1 operations plus additional controls, such as: the posting of signs warning of the dust hazard, the use of wetting agents to control the spread of dust and the mandatory wearing of respirators.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act employers have specified duties, such as a duty to ensure that workers and any person in authority over the worker (e.g., their supervisors) are aware of any work hazards and hazards in the handling, storage, use, disposal and transport of any article, device, equipment, or biological, chemical or physical agents (section 25(2)(d)).

Employers are also required to ensure that a worker has received information and instruction and supervision to protect their health and safety (section 25(2)(a) of the OHSA). For brake maintenance and repair the information and instruction may include, but is not limited to, some or all of the following elements:

  • the hazards of asbestos exposure through inhalation and ingestion
  • the measures and procedures to be followed to control exposure to asbestos
  • the use, care and disposal of personal protective clothing and equipment

Section 25(2)(h) of OHSA requires employers to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker. Depending on the specific factual circumstances in a workplace, it may be a reasonable precaution for an employer to establish written procedures to be followed when a worker is required to carry out brake maintenance and repair.

Recommended precautions for employers

Only use brake pads that do not contain asbestos. When ordering aftermarket replacement brake pads, check to confirm that the product identifies or confirms that it does not contain asbestos. Never assume a product is asbestos free unless it is stated either on the box/container or purchase invoice.