Australia comes out fighting against asbestos

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With new legislation currently before its national parliament, the Australian government has taken a significant step in the fight to finally eradicate asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos Dust Hazard

Bill Shorten, the incumbent Labour party's employment minister, said the draft law is intended to end the "blight" of asbestos in Australia.

From the new bill will be established the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, emphasising environmental and public health, awareness and handling of the toxic substance.

Australia is understood to have been among the world's premier users of asbestos. The material's presence in thousands of older buildings, where it was originally used as an insulator and fire-retardant, has provenly contributed to the spread of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Mr Shorten said an action plan to eliminate exposure through asbestos eradication and handling throughout Australia is his government's commitment. "Establishing the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency is a critical step in the process. We lead the world in mesothelioma rates. Today we have the chance to lead in action."

Almost 10 years have passed since Australia formally banned asbestos, Mr Shorten noted. "Still, today, the dangers of this silent killer remain. Asbestos is the worst industrial menace, that will go on killing for decades.

"The sad truth is that asbestos-related deaths are not expected to peak until 2020, and that tragically we are expecting another 30-40,000 people to be diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases in the next 20 years."

Mr Shorten added that children yet unborn will succumb to asbestos-related conditions. "We owe it to future generations to come to grips with the blight of asbestos," he said. "This is the first time that we will have a coordinated approach to eradicating, and handling asbestos beyond our workplaces."

News of the Australian initiative has been noted here by the Trades Union Congress. The TUC campaigns vigorously on behalf of UK workers, particularly those in the building and construction industry and also the teaching professions. The legacy of widespread use of asbestos in public buildings and schools will cause deaths for many years to come.

Emma Costin, Head of Industrial Disease at Simpson Millar comments “The shocking truth is that children and teachers in our older schools and colleges run the risk of being exposed to potentially deadly airborne asbestos fibres due to building works, maintenance or dilapidation because the longstanding policy of the UK government was that asbestos should be sealed away rather than removed entirely, in the name of saving money."

"Unless steps are taken to eradicate asbestos entirely - along the lines of what is happening now in Australia - or else accurate asbestos registers are kept and rigorously updated and referred to whenever necessary, records that indicate clearly where asbestos is located in our buildings, then our tradesmen and women and the occupants of the buildings concerned each run the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres due to unintended asbestos disturbance."

"There is evidence that asbestos fibres may be particularly carcinogenic when inhaled at a young age which is particularly worrying given the prevalence of asbestos in our educational buildings, even as late as 2013.”


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