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Issue #1743      August 10, 2016

Asbestos risk in Perth

On the week beginning July 11, workers on the construction of the new Perth Children’s Hospital were installing a ventilation shaft which passed through roof cladding installed earlier in the project, using angle grinders to cut holes into the material with accompanying dust. They raised concerns with management the following day and were told there was nothing to worry about.

The workers’ union, the Construction Division of the CFMEU, had their own tests conducted which uncovered the presence of chrysotile (white asbestos) in the dust.

The material was imported from China. About 40 of the workers have registered their health concerns with the lead contractor John Holland Constructions.

In response to the issues raised by the incident and to give union members and the public an opportunity to ask questions a seminar was convened by the CFMEU on July 23.

The first speaker was the long standing President of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia Robert Vojakovic who has been involved with ADSA for most of the organisation’s 35 year history. ASADA was established as a welfare and advisory service to assist the victims exposed to blue asbestos (crocidolite) in the former mining town Wittenoom, in WA’s Pillbarra. What was of concern to Vojkovic was the long latency time for the disease as it often took from 20 to 50 years for the body to develop the disease and in that time the organisations who were responsible would often change shape or simply fold up, making it hard to recover compensation to cover the costs of treating people with the debilitating and often fatal disease.

President of the Australian Medical Association Dr Andrew Miller said the AMA is concerned that the workers were unnecessarily exposed to the risk in the first place.

The CFMEU said that too often when contracts were awarded they were awarded on cost only and did not take into account the problems and disruptions caused by dodgy materials including the quality of steel used in construction sourced from countries where quality control was unreliable (the material was imported from China).

The Communist Party of Australia calls on the WA state government to take over responsibility for administering the entire fallout and consequences of this failure of standards at the Perth Children’s Hospital site and that a full investigation be conducted into how it happened that asbestos ended up in such a vital state infrastructure.

Next article – Vale Jock Levy

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