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.