While COVID-19 rings out around the world, let us not forget ongoing health and safety issues that know no boundaries and continue to affect people in our community every day.
With the highest recorded rates of mesothelioma in the world and likely the most in situ products of all the states, asbestos has left a devastating legacy in Western Australia and its impact is far from over.
On average one person dies every 12 hours in Australia from the terminal, asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma, and it is estimated there are 4000 deaths per year from the effects of asbestos.
Reflections was established in 2016 to support sufferers and their families; promote research into better treatment outcomes, and to increase awareness of the risks of exposure, particularly to home renovators and tradespeople.
Jo Morris is co-Founder and Director of Reflections and has spent the past five years tirelessly working to reduce the ongoing impact of asbestos.
“My father, Barry Knowles, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in February 2010 and given 6 to 9 months to live. Defying medical odds, he survived seven years and, in that time wrote his memoir, Reflections Through Reality, which became a catalyst for establishing a foundation by the same name.
Before Dad’s diagnosis, although having lived in WA my whole life and working in the building and construction industry, I knew little about asbestos and had never heard of mesothelioma – it took some practice to even pronounce it.
Through my work, both as a building designer and with Reflections, I hear and see all too often the ignorance and lack of awareness around asbestos. Many people believe it is a thing of the past, that we are no longer at risk or that it takes long-term exposure. I was in that category until Dad’s diagnosis, and I can assure you, mesothelioma is not a word you want to have to learn.
Reflections’ support network currently comprises both men and women ranging in age from early 50’s into their 70’s. Every new sufferer that joins is a reminder that we need to be doing what we can to reduce the ongoing impact this devastating disease has on our community.”Jo Morris – co-Founder and Director of Reflections
“My husband was 45 when he died of mesothelioma in June 2020. He never worked with it. But at some time, someone, somewhere, took a short cut to save money. Now he is dead, and my children have no Dad.” Lizz
Greg was 50 when a dry cough and sore chest took him to the doctor for a check-up. Having not worked for any prolonged periods with asbestos, the diagnosis to follow was the last thing he and his wife expected. In an interview a few months before his passing, Greg said,
“It is all about awareness, and it is also about educating people that you don’t necessarily have to have been a smoker to get lung cancer.”
“It was a shock to receive the devastating diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma when I have never worked in the building industry. It is heartbreaking to have to share this awful news with my beautiful family and friends, particularly when it is a preventable disease.” Lyn
Jo goes on to say,
“Over the past ten years, my knowledge of asbestos and its ongoing impact has grown exponentially. It’s what drives me to make change for the sake of our future generations.
With the average age of first exposure for WA mesothelioma sufferers being 24, we need to be vigilant to ensure young people, particularly those going into the trades, are empowered to make educated decisions when it comes to working with asbestos-containing materials.
2021 sees the inclusion of an asbestos awareness module into the Cert II in Building and Construction Trade Pathways. As exciting as this is, it still puzzles me as to why, so many years after asbestos was banned in Australia, it has taken little-old-me to point out the need. Sending apprentices and trainees onto worksites without an understanding of asbestos puts them at risk of suffering its devastating effects later in life.
With the DIY culture in Australia, I believe we also need greater awareness in the general community. As we spend time in lockdown due to COVID restrictions, will we look back in 30 years as another ‘wave’ of sufferers form?
In my opinion, a national asbestos awareness campaign is something that should have been rolled after asbestos was banned in 2003.
We are fortunate to have some of the world’s leading experts in asbestos-related disease here in Western Australia. While they work on finding a long-term treatment for mesothelioma, we need to be doing what we can to ensure people are not exposed to its source – asbestos.
Asbestos seems to know no boundaries. While it might be too late for some, I believe there is opportunity to increase awareness and, potentially, save lives. Knowledge is key! Jo Morris
To find out more, or to support the work being undertaken by Jo and the Reflections Team, head to www.reflections.org.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org