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Asbestos legislation world wide was born of necessity to control seemingly invincible companies like Australia’s James Hardie, making billions of dollars mining, manufacturing, and illegally dumping these deadly minerals. Companies profiting from asbestos ignored as long as possible the trail of asbestos-related death and disease inflicted upon employees, their families and the general population. Overwhelming proof linking asbestos to lethal diseases ignited a rebellion in many countries, forcing complacent governments to take action.
Power of the Asbestos Industry
Unfortunately, this industry has grown so powerful it has been able to water down laws and reverse bans in several jurisdictions. Economic concerns have some governments siding with industry, yet realising the political gamble they take by ignoring asbestos-related health risks for their people. In the early days, requirements for industry to protect workers and make the work environment safe were not enforced. The government feared regulations would increase costs of production, reducing profits and subsequent tax revenue.
Asbestos in the Third World
Today, regulation of the asbestos industry is causing progressive restriction of mining, manufacture and commercial use of asbestos, slowly reining in the devastation this industry has left in its wake. As a result, demand for asbestos has declined, but the nightmare is not over yet. There is a third world market hungry for asbestos, ignorant of its unquenchable toxicity, with no regulations in place to protect the environment and public health. In developing countries like China and India, laws are inadequate, health and safety organizations are small and ineffective. There are no advocacy groups supporting and educating workers at risk, and corruption is rampant.
Asbestos has been banned in over 50 countries worldwide, including Australia, Japan, and 27 member countries of the European Union. This action was taken to reduce the rising number of people dying of asbestos related diseases. Countries with the strongest industrial lobbies are yet waging this unending war against asbestos corporations. Governments in Russia, Canada and Brazil are fighting for asbestos, citing economic dependence as their reason for keeping the dying industry alive. The United States is “phasing out” use of asbestos products, but still uses and manufactures them, exporting surplus materials to unregulated developing countries.
Asbestos laws in Australia
Australia’s fight to ban asbestos has taken decades, mainly due to industry’s influence on government. Also, over the years, there has been a disorganized approach to regulating asbestos. The layers of government did not understand one another’s roles. There was confusion, duplication and inefficiency, resulting in conflicting information being disseminated within the government and to the public.
Safe Work Australia’s National Compliance and Enforcement Policy now sets standards for worker health and safety, similar to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the US. An Occupational Health and Safety Act effective in all jurisdictions is the goal of this nationwide effort. Safe Work Australia is responsible for a consistent, national approach to enforce the newly approved OSH Act through continued development, monitoring and maintenance of these model regulations and codes of practice. Enforcement is left to individual territories. The existing work health and safety regulators in Australia are:
- Safework SA
- WorkCover NSW
- Workplace Health and Safety Queensland
- WorkSafe ACT
- NT WorkSafe
- WorkSafe Victoria
- WorkSafe Western Australia, and
- Workplace Standards Tasmania.
One hundred years in the making, it will soon relieve the confusion and lack of direction for asbestos control and management in Australia.
Special Report: Asbestos in the World. http://hesa.etui-rehs.org/uk/newsletter/files/newsletter27p7-21.pdf
Safe Work Australia’s National Compliance and Enforcement Policy