Cancer Council Australia

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Australian national strategic plan for asbestos management


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kNOw cancer risks at work, Cockle Bay Sydney, May 2015



Peter Tighe, Chief Executive Officer, Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency



Australian national strategic plan for asbestos management


Presentation outline:

The National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness is the first of its kind and aims to provide a national approach to asbestos management, eradication, handling and awareness in Australia. In this presentation, Peter Tigne from the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency outlines the strategy and some of the challenges to be overcome in order to reduce the impact of asbestos on Australians.

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Well firstly, I probably need to introduce the agency. I know some people who have heard about us in the past and probably are familiar with what we are going to do. Our aim is to be at the end of the day a one stop shop in relation to asbestos. That is not to say that we will be everything related to asbestos, but we will be the central point, and hopefully, the hub that will be able to give information out to the general public and to people involved in trying to deal with the problem with asbestos.

I have been with the agency for some time. The agency was established in July 2013 with bipartisan support by the Commonwealth Government, and it was a culmination of some recommendations that came out of the asbestos management review, which touched on all the issues associated with asbestos. That review and report from that review where there were twelve recommendations, were endorsed by the then government, and one of those recommendations was to set up the agency, a separate agency from the government, a satellite obviously, but one that could specifically focus on the issues in relation to asbestos.

In our endeavor to try and drive the debate and the directions in relation to asbestos, there was a National Strategic Plan for asbestos management that was endorsed around about the same time, and the council was set up and basically, we started to operate from around about August 2013 with a handful of people, and now we have a dozen or so people.

I'll probably go back to the previous slide and what was the major catalyst for this? There the deaths are associated with mesothelioma and you can see from the trend chart that they are continuing to rise and predictions are that mesothelioma deaths will peak around about 2024, somewhere around about that mark. It is not completely accurate because of the long gestation period, but you can also see that it is starting to spread its tentacles and we are starting to see a rise in females. Professor Cherrie touched on paraprofessionals in the U.K. and the same trend has been looked at worldwide where people not specifically involved in the areas of mining, manufacturing, and/or installation of asbestos are now being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

The more important thing I think looking at these figures is to look at asbestos related diseases and the fatalities generally. It is much higher than that, it actually trends up around a thousand a year, and for a very small country with our population base, that is pretty dramatic.

Most of you would probably know that in Australia, we are probably the first or second based on exposure levels associated with the size of our country to one of the highest user rates for asbestos products up until we banned them in 2003.

Now, back to the agency, the agency has a responsibility of answering directly to the Minister for Workplace Relations, that is Senator Eric Abetz. I'm a statutory officer. I report directly to the minister, but we also must work with all the other players in relation with asbestos. So, that brings on board the eight jurisdictions of government in Australia and the National Strategic Plan has now been endorsed by all of those bodies, only recently unfortunately, because what we basically had to do was to go back and re-negotiate the terms of the National Strategic Plan with those affected by at the end of the day, which obviously are the eight areas of government in Australia. And our responsibility is to ensure that all the issues associated with asbestos are in fact addressed and we get commonality and coordination in relation to asbestos. So, those four dot points, talk about the broad areas that we must address, implement the plan, advise the minister, liaise with States and Territories, and continue to monitor and promote asbestos safety.

Now, one of the issues in relation to the earlier version of the plan and our current plan was that the issues in relation to the fact this associated with asbestos and what might be the cost of removing it from the building environment, both commercially and residentially needed to be developed, albeit there had already been quite a bit of consultation in relation to the development of the first draft of the plan that the current government wanted to make sure that we focused on those principles that are currently in the plan, that we really focused on a precautionary approach in relation to asbestos. That is getting the information out there so the knowledge base in relation with asbestos in an industrial and public sense was raised to a level where people actually understood what the issues were in relation to finding yourself in an environment where you might be exposed.

It had to be evidence based. Cost had to be looked at. Projected cost had to be looked at and we needed to be fully transparent. So, anything that we are doing is fully reported in the annual report. It is also available on our website and we liaise with a very large group of stakeholders, so that people know what we are doing.

And, of course, public participation and collaboration is very important because we can't do this alone. We need to ensure that the States and Territories who have a responsibility for this are also involved, and if you are aware of the effect of asbestos in our society, that means your Department of Health, your Departments of the Environment, your local government areas, and, of course, you workplace regulator. They have all got a stakeholder part in the whole process of asbestos.

These are the six key strategic areas in the plan, and you can see that they are not there in any specific order, but really awareness is probably one of the critical ones. I have touched on that, and I think that goes back to some of the comments that were made by earlier speakers in relation to understanding carcinogens and having society understand them.

Best practice - we looked to cases in relation to best practice and it is our job to encourage them, identify them, and promote them.

Identification - you would think that we would know given our history of association with asbestos where our ACMs are, and what the risk factors are in relation to those ACMs, and the one thing that amazes me when I came on board is that we don't actually have a great deal of information in there that is consolidated.

We also have a responsibility for promoting removal. That brings a lot of alarm bells when you start to talk to the governments of all natures because they are saying well, what is that going to cost at the end of the day?

But you do need to have a removal program in place. You do need to look at removal versus the cost of management. You do need to look at removal in relation to the cost of medical treatment in relation to those people who are suffering from ARDs, and to ensure that you have got the appropriate arguments to support some of your objectives, you need to do the research.

So, that brings into play a fifth tenet of the plan. We need to be able to argue that all our arguments and directions are evidence based, that they don't simply come from anecdotal discussion with stakeholders who have one view or another.

And the last point is international leadership. To go out and show that Australia is really taking this on board, and we are because we are the only country in the world that has a specific agency focused on asbestos seen to be one of the countries that are making breakthroughs in relation to overall management and eradication, and over the last twelve months, I have been building up an international network to focus on things that we might jointly work on.

It is probably not well publicised, but last week, we had the Convention that looks at a variety of chemicals, the Rotterdam Convention is one that lists various forms of asbestos in relation to prescribing the chemical dangers, and we have a real opposition group out there who are promoting asbestos. You would be probably interested to know that whilst we have got bans through a lot of first world countries, that two-thirds of the level of mining and export of asbestos are still in place. We have reduced mining and export by a third over the last 20 odd years. Most of it is out of the old Russian Federation and it is widely used in near neighbours of India, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia where they are still manufacturing ACM sheeting for building. They are still using asbestos very widely, and it is creating not only problems directly for their own people, but quite clearly, problems in relation to threats about importation of products into Australia.

So, I won't go through each of those points that underpin them. Probably, just summarize them. It is about awareness, it is about getting to the community. It is about better information and that means best practices. There is a hell of a lot of information out there about asbestos, but we need to galvanize that and get focus on what is the best material and people to utilise that, and the Cancer Council of Australia and a number of its arms have been very proactive in that area.

And also, we need to look at that cultural and behavioural change. Everyone would know that on T.V., two to three nights a week, you can see Renovation Rumble and what is happening, and very rarely do they tell you beforehand that there has actually been some assessment of the asbestos problems before we see it. Young people running in with lump hammers smacking into the sides of bathrooms and kitchens.

Best practice is very important. We have been how to identify that, and that is really promoting those people whether they are doing the right thing and showing that you can actually manage the identification and removal of asbestos.

We are looking at trying to galvanize the identification processes in Australia. Whilst there is a tool that is used by the Health and Safety Executive in the U.K. based on an algorithm of a number of inputs, we haven't really had one in Australia and we are working on a pilot in Tasmania and the first report in relation to that pilot will be available very shortly for public comment.

The aim is to try and get some clear guidelines as to what you must have when you are actually going out there and looking at developing an asbestos register and risk rating the ACMs that might exist in a certain set of circumstances.

Removal - once you have identification, there is a debate about management versus removal. High risk obviously in any tenet in relational occupational health and safety, if you can remove the risk, that is the way forward. But quite frankly, that is not always something that happens, and we need to encourage more proactivity in that way and where there has been proactivity and it's best practice, promote that.

Research again, cost effects of asbestos, we see that there are a number of cost effects that take place currently at the present time. I will touch on some of the work that we are doing in that area, and you will probably pick up where we are going in that direction, and again, I've already spoken about international leadership.

The plan has a lifetime of five years and then, it is up for review for the second stage of the plan. I just wanted to talk briefly on this. The plan that we have actually had just endorsed is the first step towards moving to the aspirational goals that the agency wishes to achieve at the end of the day.

My background is many, many, many moons ago, I was an electrician, and I think like most tradespeople do when you look at a job, you look at what you need to put in place, you work out where you are going to go, you then plan how you are going to do it, and you look at all the needs that you would require to implement that to finish the job. The first stage of the plan is about making all that identification, get the evidence base, working out what the costs are, start to do some pilots, and actually show that it is not the ogre that a lot of people in government see at the present time, and I think we are moving ahead down that track. The Victorian Government recently announced $100 million for removal of asbestos in schools in Victoria. We are hoping to be involved in that process. I have had a discussion with the minister down there. It is really about getting best practice and making sure that we can move ahead. These are some of the things we are doing at the present time. As I said, whilst we have only been around for around about 20 odd months, we haven't been sitting on our hands just re-drafting the plan. It was one of the critical things that we had to do because the minister directed me to do it. So, what the minister says, that is what you do.

But really, some of the things we have been touching on, looking at strengthening, training in the utility sector, I think some of you may have heard the press associated with the NBN rollout and problems associated with the general community because the removal of asbestos pit and pipe work wasn't up to the standard. Certainly, it wasn't up to the regulatory standard.

So, we needed to come in there and say, Well hang on, this is because of the level of awareness of people who are performing this work isn't up to scratch, and we need to get better levels, better focus in relation to training.

We have got our awareness program, which is running out there for health professionals in the community. The Lung Foundation is assisting us with that. I talked about the identification tool project.

We are also looking at the problems with waste disposal and the problems associated with getting rid of waste. That is a major problem for local governments. Millions of years spent on processes of eradication once there has been illegal dumping.

There are some issues associated with environmental levels, access to disposal facilities, knowing where those disposal facilities are. We currently have on our website an area where you can click on and find out where the closest facility is to you, but there needs to be a better information about the whole process available to people.

We are looking at an app based on what has been introduced in the U.K. for awareness, and we are hoping that we will have that completed towards the end of the year. It is a part of our communications campaign. People of today's society obviously go straight to Mr. Google when they are asked for information. So, why wouldn't you develop something for their iPhone or for their devices that they can get that information readily and in fact even look at photos of typical asbestos, so they can make some judgments about what they are actually looking at and whether there is a real problem to get professional advice.

It is not about giving them a tool to do what they need to do. It is about telling them where they ought to go to get that information, and obviously it will be linked with the regulators and the players in each of the jurisdictions.

We also want to look at the cost in relation to future burden of mesothelioma because we think that is very important. We don't think that has been identified. When people look at cost of removal, they have got to also understand what the costs of not doing anything, actually do at the end of the day.

We also want to start to get people to focus on asbestos in the domestic sense. The Mr Fluffy issue last year raised really a big issue about people when they move into a residence, to whether they know there are in fact carcinogens in their residence they know to manage and/or remove, and they need to know the effect on them as an individual.

We are also working in indigenous communities because there is a huge legacy of ACMs. They are in very poor condition that need to be addressed and we can assist indigenous communities in working with licensed contractors and, in fact, may be training some of the indigenous communities to gain licenses for land councils, etc. to do clean up and maintenance work as it continues on.

We are looking at identification and how important that is. We are looking at the evidence base in relation to the general Australian community from asbestos, and a part of that is our registration that is on our national website.

So, we can glean from people when they self-report that they believe they have been exposed to asbestos, and we don't just get people from the domestic environment. We get industrial reports. We get a clear understanding that people are still being exposed to asbestos in today's environment.

We are also looking at the effect of removal and whether there is a higher exposure to asbestos when you are removing asbestos. We don't think there is, but we need to have an evidence base in relation to that. And we are reviewing existing communications. We are looking at regulations impact on business, identification in the home as a better focus. I've talked about case studies. I've talked about the register. We are working with the Bernie Banton Foundation and also with other areas including Betty. I notice a demonstration board of Betty outside there about getting the information out to the community.

Also, the mapping and Legacy projects in the remote communities because they are the areas that don't actually get much focus. They seem to be lost in regional/rural areas and also improving the level of education for trade training programs.

So, that is it. I must be getting close to time, and that is how you get in contact with us. Just one last point, we have our convention coming up at the end of the year, and a part of the deal with Terry was that if I was going to come along and talk at his forum, I would be able to put my flyers out for our conference, which you will find, I think, will be very illuminating and we want all those people involved in cancers to understand the problems associated with asbestos, to come along and join in and lift their level of knowledge in relation to asbestos.

Thank you.

This page was last updated on: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

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