Asbestos awareness for our tradies
“With the average age of exposure for recorded mesothelioma sufferers being 23 years-of-age, I believe we have a responsibility to ensure those entering the construction industry are informed and empowered to make potentially life-saving decisions.”Jo Morris
The Construction Training Fund (CTF) hosted a workshop in mid-August 2017 for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) and industry stakeholders. Guests included Jo Morris from Reflections, Dale Alcock from the ABN Group and Dr Peter Franklin from UWA. The focus of the workshop was to;
- Increase awareness of the ongoing risks of asbestos and the relevance to school students, pre-apprentices and apprentices who are entering the construction industry.
- Discuss with workshop participants the idea of creating a set of standardised resources that can be used by RTOs to deliver asbestos awareness training.
The workshop was the result of months of investigation and consultation by Jo Morris, Reflections’ Operations Manager. Having a son entering a pre-apprenticeship, Jo was interested in what, if any, asbestos awareness training was being taught to the younger generations.
During the workshop, it was highlighted that three in four tradies find it difficult to identify asbestos and new apprentices were not receiving a consistent, relevant education about the risks of asbestos in the workplace. Although asbestos materials were banned in Australia in 2003, with the large amounts of in-situ asbestos, our tradies and DIY’ers are now at most risk of contracting an asbestos-related disease.
A Curtin University survey of 240 carpenters, painters, plumbers and electricians indicated only small numbers had received training related to asbestos. For example, only 17 per cent of electricians had received any training and 38 per cent reported that they would find it difficult to identify asbestos. Electricians and plumbers are most at risk of exposure to asbestos.
Builder Dale Alcock, whose father died from mesothelioma, said a ban on asbestos products in Australia had created a false comfort that the building industry lacks asbestos. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “We’d like to see a contemporary training module that talks about assessment, identification and correct handling of asbestos.”
Dr Peter Franklin, a senior research fellow in Population and Public Health at the University of WA said asbestos remained abundant in WA. “Asbestos is not going to go away in our lifetime at least, because there is just so much of it,” said Dr Franklin, who spoke at the workshop.
“With the average age of exposure for recorded mesothelioma sufferers being 23 years-of-age, I believe we have a responsibility to ensure those entering the construction industry are informed and empowered to make potentially life-saving decisions,” says Ms Morris.
“With WA’s history of asbestos and the fact that we have the highest rates of asbestos-related disease in the world, there is an opportunity for WA to lead by example. Unlike in the past, we are now in the privileged position of knowing about the dangers of asbestos and have the opportunity to potentially reduce the risk of exposure for our future tradies.
The workshop highlighted the industry’s keenness to adopt a consistent approach to training in asbestos awareness in Western Australia (WA).
In the longer term, the industry would like to see training embedded into the White Card which would ensure all workers would receive the basic asbestos awareness training prior to entering a worksite.
Since the workshop, Jo Morris has worked with the Construction Training Fund and other industry stakeholders to assist CELL media in producing an animated asbestos awareness training video which they donated free of charge after hearing about the workshop.
The CTF was provided with a set of asbestos awareness training resources from the Asbestos Free Tasmania Foundation. The CTF tailored the resources to meet WA’s needs and has offered them to RTOs who deliver construction qualifications to school students, pre-apprentices and apprentices.