The “Triffid defence” applied to asbestos

At the end of The Day of The Triffids, John Wyndham, had mankind living on the Isle of Wight, making sure that Triffids did not infest the island.  Tasmania has a similar mindset as can be seen by its diligence on keeping the land free of foxes but that is keeping out a hazard.  The greater challenge is renewing the land and removing a hazard that was allowed to grow and establish itself like triffids or, more realistically, asbestos.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has written elsewhere about the Australian Workers Union push to make Tasmania free of asbestos by 2020.  The signs are increasingly positive as the Tasmanian government issued a media release on 6 June 2010 that provides substantial impetus and legitimacy to the campaign.

The Minister for Workplace Relations, David O’Byrne, said today that the government will work with industry to develop legislative frameworks that provide a pathway for the prioritised removal of asbestos from Tasmania.

“We are all very aware that the incorrect management of asbestos could pose a public health issue,” Mr O’Byrne said. “Therefore, it is critical that that (sic) we have the right legislative frameworks in place to ensure that people’s lives are no longer put at risk by this dangerous material.

“As a group, we will act decisively to achieve best-practice status, not only nationally but internationally, in dealing with the problem of asbestos.”

“Accordingly, we will bring employers and employees together to develop an action plan – a framework that can operate across the whole community.

“To begin with, over the coming weeks we will be advertising for the position as head of the newly established Asbestos Unit, as well as key positions within the project team.

“As a priority, the Unit will be charged with establishing legislative frameworks dealing with the long-term removal of asbestos from Tasmania as well as developing on the ground procedures that allow for this work to be undertaken in a structured, safe and timely manner”

“In addition to the Asbestos Unit, the State Government will be introducing specific legislation in relation to a compensation fund.

“The fund will provide a means via which people whose health has been impacted by exposure to asbestos may receive assistance for themselves and their families”

This significant development indicates that the campaign is able to cross political party lines as there has been a change of government in the State in the last few months.  The former (Labor) Minister for Workplace Relations, Lisa Singh, called for the commitment to continue in May 2010.

It also sets the bar high in preparing to step onto the international stage with this program through legislation.  The ideological commitment of the government seems to indicate that all of the elements of asbestos management and risk will be considered – safe removal, public health,….  The pledge on compensation shows that the government has looked beyond the State and learnt much from the James Hardie compensation fund debacle from only a few years ago.  There are few options for assistance that can be offered to people who face an incurable health condition and money is almost the only option left.

Predictably business groups are in favour of a “no fault” system of compensation, according to one newspaper report, but Workplace Standards

“said such a model would be released for public comment in a few weeks, and actuaries were working out how much money would be needed.”

If the government is able to achieve its aims and to get the process right, it will have created a model that may be applied if, and when, other hazards are realised in the future.  Just as in the early days of manufacture when asbestos was wondrous, there may be other objects and materials that will become hazardous with age or additional medical research.  The actions of the Tasmanian government may just prepare us for the next industrial Triffid.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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