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Archive

Month: December 2023

20 years since asbestos was banned in Australia, but the risk remains.

This December marks the 20th anniversary of Australia’s complete ban of asbestos which took effect on 31 December 2003. But there are still millions of tonnes of asbestos materials that remain in our built environment, hiding in our homes, hospitals, schools and workplaces. These materials are now between 30 to over 100 years old, which means they are deteriorating and increasing the risk of releasing dangerous asbestos fibres.

At greatest risk of exposure to asbestos fibres are those who undertake asbestos removal or carry out, repairs, maintenance or renovation work on buildings that were built before 1990. One in three homes across Australia still have asbestos.

Work health and safety laws prohibit work involving asbestos, apart from specific circumstances where strict safety rules must be followed. If you are not sure whether a material contains asbestos, don’t touch it. And don’t work with asbestos if you are not trained to do so or do not have the right tools and protective equipment. To stay safe at a job, follow these steps:

1. Check up.

If the building is a workplace, check the asbestos register. If it is a home that was built before 1990, it is likely to contain asbestos. Know what you need to do to be safe and if necessary, call a licensed asbestos professional.

2. Gear up.

Before starting work, plan ahead and protect yourself with the right equipment. Always use work practices that will prevent or minimise the release of asbestos fibres into the air.

3. Clean up.

Leave the site clean and dispose of asbestos waste at a licensed facility. Fines apply for not doing the right thing.

Tragically, an estimated 4,000 Australians still die each year from asbestos-related diseases, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. That’s more than three times the road toll. Never cut corners with asbestos, it’s not worth the risk.

More information can be found at Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

Further information on how to prevent asbestos exposure is available at Asbestos – Frequently asked questions | Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (commerce.wa.gov.au)

If you, or someone you know, are impacted by asbestos disease, do not hesitate to get in touch with the Reflections team. With lived experience, they offer invaluable care and support every step of the way.

City of Perth lights up blue in memory of lives lost to asbestos.

During National Asbestos Awareness Week 2023, Reflections once again lit Perth City blue, commemorating those who have lost their lives to asbestos-related disease and serving as a reminder to maintain vigilance when it comes to asbestos safety.

Despite the complete ban on asbestos in Australia, 20 years ago this month, its impact is still with us. Shockingly, an estimated 4,000 people succumb to asbestos-related disease each year in Australia.

Asbestos was used in over 3,000 products resulting in an estimated 6.2 million tonnes of asbestos-containing materials still in our built environment. These materials are aging and deteriorating. The bonding materials are breaking down leaving the indestructible asbestos fibres exposed. Recent events, such as floods, cyclones and fires, highlight the ongoing risk of asbestos exposure and environmental contamination to the community.

Having personally experienced the loss of asbestos-related disease, our team feels privileged to walk alongside others going through some of their darkest times. While they had fun roaming the city streets and snapping photos, it was also a sobering reminder of the importance of the work we do in and for the community to reduce the ongoing impact of asbestos.

20th anniversary of the national asbestos ban commemorated in Parliament House Canberra.

On 31 December 2003, a complete ban on the use of asbestos in all forms came into effect in Australia. Fast forward twenty years, and stakeholders, including support organisations, government agencies, union representatives, health professionals, and researchers, gathered at Parliament House in Canberra to commemorate this historic milestone.

During the event, Minister Burke delivered a poignant statement in the House of Representatives, acknowledging the efforts of campaigners, remembering lives lost to asbestos-related disease, and emphasising the ongoing fight against asbestos. Jo Morris, the Co-founder and Managing Director of Reflections, was present to witness this momentous occasion.

“The Minister’s words in the House were powerful and emotive, especially for those of us personally affected by the devastating impact of asbestos. My Dad was a hard worker. It doesn’t seem fair that simply doing his job cost him his life. Asbestos is an ongoing hidden danger in our community and I’m proud of the work the Reflections team do to reduce the ongoing impact.”

Jo Morris

Below are highlights from the event and excerpts from the Minister’s speech.

“Many Australians will not realise: it was only 20 years ago, on 31 December 2003, that a complete national ban on the use of all forms of asbestos came into effect. The story of that ban is one of tireless advocacy by many who were denied justice themselves—by workers whose own lives were cut short by a scourge that government and industry failed to prevent; by workmates, shop stewards and union delegates who questioned workplace practices and were ignored; by families who saw their fathers and brothers, mothers and sisters taken from them too soon. Yet these Australians, in the face of personal tragedy, spoke up to protect others. They spoke up for the most basic of principles: that no one should die at work.

“It wasn’t just tragedy; it was injustice. It could have been prevented. The significance of this anniversary won’t be lost on those of us gathered here today. Asbestos remains the greatest workplace tragedy of our time—the single biggest killer of workers in Australia. And we’re still living with its legacy, to this date. Twenty years after it was banned, asbestos-related diseases claim the lives of over 4,000 Australians each year. That’s three times the national annual road toll. Over 700 of these deaths can be attributed to mesothelioma, a terrible, aggressive form of cancer that typically strikes people down many years after initial exposure.

“These deaths are a tragedy, each one representing immense grief, pain, hardship and loss, which is why we owe our gratitude to the many individuals and organisations who fought so hard for the ban and to ensure the victims of asbestos exposure received justice and support—people like Bernie Banton, a powerful campaigner for victims of asbestos, who fought long and hard to ensure all those affected received compensation. He died, as a result of his asbestos exposure, in 2007.

“The 2003 ban was a great achievement, but it’s only part of an unfinished story. Asbestos remains in millions of buildings and structures across Australia. It’s estimated that one in three homes has asbestos in them. In all, around 6.2 million tonnes of asbestos-containing materials are thought to remain in our built environment. These materials are old and, as they age, they degrade, increasing the risk of releasing deadly asbestos fibres, and more frequent extreme weather events, such as floods and fires, are also increasing the risk of asbestos exposure and environmental contamination. In short, the risk of asbestos exposure is not over. Much needs to be done to address this deadly asbestos legacy. More needs to be done.

“Through the leadership of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, whose chair, Paul Bastian, and CEO, Jodie Deakes, are here today, along with many of their staff, all governments will soon come together to set out a new five-year strategic plan to put that legacy squarely behind us. That ongoing work is essential if we’re to hold true to the efforts of all those who campaigned over decades for justice for victims. The agency has recently published findings that, if we had sustained and coordinated by all governments, we could remove all asbestos from our buildings by 2068—it takes that long—in doing so, preventing up to 27½ thousand deaths from asbestos-related diseases.

“As we head into the next stage of the fight against asbestos, we acknowledge the valuable work of a generation of individuals and organisations, including many in the gallery today. But I also want to acknowledge all of the asbestos disease support groups across Australia and their efforts to support victims of this deadly material…

“To all those—and there are many of them in the gallery right now and some on the floor behind it—who have over the past 20 years and more championed the plight of workers affected directly by these dust diseases: you have saved lives. To all of you who continue to champion those workers now and into the future: you continue to save lives. Your efforts are as important now as they were 20 years ago, and your government stands with you.”

Minister Tony Burke, Statements of Significant Matters Speech, read in Parliament House Canberra December 2023.