Small OHS issues may be controlled by big picture action

The continuing risks of asbestos are not nearly as noticeable on the radar of OHS professionals in the Western (or Minority) world as it used to be.  In many people’s minds, a ban on asbestos has removed the risk.  That is not the case, even if much of our attention is given to cleaning up the chemical’s dangerous legacy.

Asbestos is as big an issue in the majority world as it ever was in the West and, for those few who want to look at the global impact of asbestos, the risks are not hard to find.

Every so often, the reality of asbestos pricks the minds of the complacent West and a recent safety alert issued by one of Australia’s smallest OHS regulators is an example.  Northern Territory’s WorkSafe has echoed actions by WorkSafe WA and issued a safety alert on

“plant … recently imported into Western Australia and found to contain bonded asbestos gaskets.  The plant was imported from New Zealand and Thailand for installation at a major industrial site in that state.  Workers at the site were unaware that any gaskets contained asbestos.”

Risks associated with imported machinery and plant will increase for Australia as its own manufacturing capacity declines.  This economic reality and inevitability sets some challenges for OHS professionals who operate, principally, in only one jurisdiction.

It is necessary to pay attention to risk generators in other countries.  Support for customs and other inspectorates needs to be increased and understood.  Procurement of machinery must include additional safety requirements and these must be explained to those whose role is to purchase equipment.  It may even be necessary to break out of one’s comfort zone and consider the “total cost of risk” rather than sectional interests.

If the aim of the OHS profession is to eliminate risks at the source, it is necessary to broaden one’s understanding beyond one’s mental and geographic borders and to become a “safety activist”.  If one focuses only on the issues immediately in front of one’s nose, the inevitable limited achievement will generate so much cynicism that the worth and purpose of one’s profession can become stiflingly dispiriting.

Trying to understand OHS in a global context is a huge challenge while one is also having to manage one’s own, onsite, obligations but for those OHS professionals who invest in the journey, there just might be a larger job and professional satisfaction which may counter or balance the inevitable cynicism that dogs the OHS discipline.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories asbestos, culture, OHS, Professional standards, quality of work, risk, safety, UncategorizedTags , ,

3 thoughts on “Small OHS issues may be controlled by big picture action”

  1. As a National and International Asbestos auditing firm, we see increasing instances of plant and equipment coming into Australia with Asbestos Clearance certificates from the country of origin. Unfortunately, our investigations have proven two things; 1) The plant & equipment still contained asbestos and 2) the companies that issued the certificates, simply did not exist.
    The issue for business to replace existing ACM (Asbestos Containing Materials) should be given the important focus that it requires. Simply put, as the material ages, becomes more brittle and breaks down, the risk significantly increases.
    Asbestos related diseases are a horrible and painful way to die – there is NO cure. Remove the ACM and protect workers.

    1. The safety of imported equipment into Australia has always been a problem. A problem that I would suspect is increasing due to the disappearance of the Australian manufacturing sector over the last 20 years.

      Regulations on plant safety have existed for all that time. Duties to ensure safety when purchasing and importing plant have clearly stated that this should be considered prior to or when purchasing equipment but these duties have been enforced only infrequently. Clearly regulation is not the best control. Education of employers will have some benefit but the campaign would need to be as effective as the general OHS awareness campaigns and it is unlikely the regulators will give this element of OHS law the necessary level of priority.

      I don\’t think we can expect much support from the new mode Work Health and Safety Act as the \”as far as reasonably practicable\” is even less likely to push employers to purchase equipment that is without risks.

  2. Most companies will agreet asbestos is harmful to workers\’ health. But on the other hand, they have plenty of asbestos gasket at their warehouses. They are cost.
    In this case, I mean that to completely remove asbestos from chemical plant will require extra time.
    But for prohibit new asbestos-based product more strict regulation must be implemented. It will requires inter-country agreement to effectively implement this plan.
    It is harder if one country which makes business with another one has conflicted regulation, asbestos in this case.

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