Rumours of a TV report on the increasing hazards of silicosis have floated around for a week or so. On October 10 2018, the show appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 program. But the story is much bigger than the ten minutes or so on that program.
The focus is understandably on silica but perhaps that is too specific. Maybe the issue of dust, in general, needs more attention.
Occupational health and safety (OHS) related decisions are made on the state of knowledge about hazards and it is up to OHS people to make sure the state of knowledge is at its best so that the best decisions can be made. But what do you do if the state of knowledge on a hazard seems to be made purposely uncertain and that uncertainty is leading to the status quo, which also happens to provide a huge income for the owner of the product creating the hazard.
This seems to be a situation at the moment in Australia in relation to the use of the weedkiller, glyphosate, marketed heavily by the global chemical company, Monsanto. The alleged corruption of data on which OHS people and workers base their safety decisions was perhaps one of the most disturbing elements of the recent ABC Four Corners program on the chemical (
Recently the 20th anniversary of the Esso Longford disaster was commemorated in Victoria. Coinciding with this anniversary was the release of a book about the disaster and its personal aftermath, Workers’ Inferno, written by Ramsina Lee.
This book has been in development for many, many years and the Lee’s writing talent is on display in the structure of the book and the stories within. These stories largely linear But the multiple strands allow Lee to jump from one to the other providing a variety tone.
The Independent Review of Model WHS Laws being conducted by Marie Boland released a Public Consultation Summary on August 17 2018. Boland lists the concerns raised with her as including:
“the blurring of lines between WHS [work health and safety], public safety and public health”
“The length and complexity of the Regulations and Codes”
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.”