Australia recently released a four-year strategic plan for asbestos awareness and management that outlines four national priorities designed to complement existing asbestos policies and actions at all levels of government.
The import and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products is prohibited in Australia, however, a large amount of asbestos still remains in the built environment.
“Under this plan, governments and regulatory agencies along with businesses, unions, individual organisations, advocacy groups, researchers and members of the community will work together to support coordinated and more effective asbestos management,” the report says.
“Laws will be strongly enforced to meet the community expectation that Australia will manage and dispose of ACMs responsibly.”
Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) CEO Justine Ross said the aim of the plan was to prevent exposure to asbestos fibres in order to eliminate asbestos-related disease in Australia.
“4,000 Australians die every year from asbestos-related disease. That’s twice the annual road toll. This plan will guide the work of all Australian governments in making sure that we are working to prevent asbestos exposure.”
“Unfortunately, despite being banned in 2003, asbestos exposure is still a risk for Australians. Our heavy past use – particularly as part of building materials used in homes and public buildings – means that legacy asbestos is an ongoing public health issue.”
Earlier this year, a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found at least 699 people died during 2018 from the aggressive cancer mesothelioma, which is predominantly caused by asbestos exposure (see related article).
And a 2018 report from ASEA found asbestos-related diseases were costing Australia over $500 million a year in direct health costs and lost productivity (see related article).
Four national priorities
1. Improve asbestos awareness to influence behavioural change
“To change attitudes and behaviours, ASAE must provide accurate and timely information about the potential health risks of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) to workers and the community. Governments and community bodies will collaborate to provide trusted, easily understood, practical and widely available information about the risks of ACMs in homes, workplaces and the environment.”
2. Identification and effective legacy management
“Many homes, public and commercial buildings and infrastructure contain large amounts of ACMs, which have already or soon will reach the end of their product life. Preventing exposure to asbestos fibres requires this material to be accurately identified and then maintained in a safe state until it can be appropriately removed. Even then, natural disasters and emergencies will occasionally disturb previously safely contained materials.”
3. Safe prioritised removal and effective waste management
“Where ACMs are in poor condition and present a risk to health and safety, they will need to be removed to prevent the risk of exposure to asbestos fibres. This requires careful planning and budgeting. It also requires the development of schedules and processes for prioritised removal according to risk and then safe transport, storage and disposal.”
4. International collaboration and leadership.
“Tragically, Australia was proportionally one of the highest per-capita producers and users of asbestos in the world. It is important that we now use our experience in a positive way, particularly in our region, to assist the campaign to ban the production and trade of asbestos and ACMs. Effective collaboration, influence and investment amongst Australian and international agencies will also help importers understand and comply with Australia’s ban, and stop the illegal importation of ACMs into Australia.”