Matthew Peacock is an award-winning Australian journalist and one of the very few in Australia who can bring an informed and nuanced perspective to the topic of occupational health and safety (OHS). Last week he was invited to speak at the dinner of the Safety Institute of Australia‘s Conference. According to some delegates, he roasted the OHS profession; to others, he set the profession a deserved challenge.
As the world approaches World Day for Safety and Health at Work and International Workers Memorial Day this coming Sunday it is worth reminding ourselves of some of the immorality that unregulated Capitalism allows. A company in one of the last remaining exporters of asbestos, Russia, has used President Donald Trump’s words and image to support its production and export of asbestos*, a product known for over a century to cause fatal illnesses.
Why is asbestos still mind if the evidence of its fatality is incontrovertible? Greed, or as it has been called in the past – “good business sense”. Many authors have written about the history of asbestos globally and locally. Many have written about the injustice in denying victims compensation from exposure to a known harmful chemical. But few have written about the core support for asbestos production, export and sale – Greed.
It was reported on October 11 2018 that Australia’s Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has called for:
“… state workplace regulators to immediately investigate risks to the health of stonemasons, and stop unsafe work practices.”
Some reports have said that a statement was issued:
“Mr Hunt issued a statement saying he and the Chief Medical Officer would raise the issue at a health COAG meeting in Adelaide on Friday. He said the meeting would be asked to consider whether a national dust diseases register should be developed.”
However the Minister’s Office has advised SafetyAtWorkBlog that no formal statement has been made. This makes it a bit hard to determine what exactly he is asking for on the prevention of silicosis but the States have begun to respond.
The Victorian Minister for Health,
By Melody Kemp
Walking my dog along the Mekong in Vientiane, new piles of building rubble litter the river bank. The capital has long had a problem with plastic waste, but as unbridled wealth spreads and humble buildings are replaced by garish McMansions, building rubble is turning up in the general detritus. Among the bricks was what looked like the residue of shattered Asbestos Cement sheets; but without necessary skill and a microscope how could anyone tell?
A Vietnamese trader arrives. He rifles through the remains, takes a few of the bigger bits, tosses them in the trailer behind his bike and leaves with a nod. Later, in the main street outside a hardware shop, a large box of mixed waste lies waiting for collection. Laos do not separate their waste at source and while there may be provisions for hazardous waste, procedures are not observed. Out of date drugs, toxic chemicals, poohy nappies are tossed into or along the river; are burned or go into general land fill sites. Or are scavenged.
Those few minutes epitomised some of the social/behavioural difficulties of controlling hazardous materials in any of the Mekong nations. Things are changing thanks to the efforts of ex-ILO Technical Adviser Phillip Hazelton. Continue reading ““We cannot buy the health of people with money””
Workplace injury statistics are always less than reality as they are based on the number of workers’ compensation claims lodged with occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators or insurance agents. The nature of occupational illnesses is that there may be many years before their presence is physically identified making them more contestable by insurers and less likely to appear in compensation data. The frustration with this lack of data was voiced on November 13 2017 in an article in the Medical Journal of Australia (not publicly available).
A summary of the research article includes this alarming statistic:
“Occupational exposures are an important determinant of respiratory health. International estimates note that about 15% of adult-onset asthma, 15% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 10–30% of lung cancer may be attributable to hazardous occupational exposures.”