04/18/2013 03:12 EDT | Updated 06/18/2013 05:12 EDT

Saskatchewan passes mandatory asbestos registry law

REGINA - Saskatchewan has become the first province to make reporting of asbestos in public buildings mandatory.

The province passed legislation Thursday that requires government buildings and hospitals to post on an online registry whether they contain asbestos.

The legislation, named Howard's Law, was introduced by the Opposition NDP last fall in honour of Howard Willems, a former building inspector who died from mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that comes from inhaling asbestos fibres.

The man's stepson, Jesse Todd, says Willems would be pleased that the bill has passed.

"It's something that he worked so hard for and it's what he fought for the last two years of his life, so it's a huge victory for him," said Todd.

Willems had argued that people should know when they're going into buildings that have asbestos — especially if construction is being done.

Asbestos is typically found in building materials such as insulation. It is not considered harmful if undisturbed, but renovations or construction work stirs up hazardous fibres that can be inhaled.

The province created a voluntary registry for government buildings last fall.

But Willems's family and groups such as the Lung Association of Saskatchewan said the registry didn't go far enough because it wasn't mandatory for other public buildings such as schools and hospitals.

The legislation changes that.

The Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region has already posted information that Labour Minister Don Morgan said has become the standard.

"Because they've identified where in the buildings the asbestos is located, at what level it's in and the condition that it's in, ... we expect that kind of information from all of the public entities," said Morgan.

Morgan said there will be six months to comply.

The labour minister said he'll also raise the issue when he meets with his provincial and terrritorial counterparts.

Todd suggested the work is not done.

"We're moving to some of the cities and some other municipalities because there are some buildings that aren't in the jurisdiction under this current legislation, so we have to move forward and get those communities on board," said Todd.

"There's also been interest from neighbouring provinces as well, so there's definitely a lot of work to do yet."