LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News Volume 12 Number 4, June 2012, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Joint Editors: Elizabeth O’Brien and Anne Roberts

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ACTU National Strategies for an Asbestos free Australia: A Framework for Future Lead Policy

by Zac Gethin-Damon, Campaigner for the End of Australian Lead in Petrol,
The LEAD Group Inc., NSW, Australia

A group made up of union representatives, an asbestos victim and her lawyer travelled to Canberra this week to urge action to halt the spread of asbestos related diseases. The timing of their visit is in light of the Government's Asbestos Management Review Committee which is due to hand in its findings by the week ending June 29, 2012. The delegates hope the review’s findings will back the plan proposed by the ACTU’s (Australian Council of Trade Unions) 2010 National Declaration for a Safe Asbestos Free Australia and accompanying National Strategies for an Asbestos free Australia.

The LEAD Group believes the objectives set out by the ACTU’s National Declaration for a Safe Asbestos Free Australia and those strategies to achieve the outcomes as explained within the National Strategies for an Asbestos free Australia provide an appropriate framework for future Australian government lead policy.

The National Declaration for a Safe Asbestos Free Australia states:

“To eliminate deadly asbestos related disease in Australia we must decrease and eventually eliminate all exposures to asbestos.

To achieve that, governments and the community generally must adopt programs to safely and systematically remove Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) from the built environment.

Internationally, the Australian government must also take a leadership role through trade and other forums to work towards an international ban on the mining, use, and sale of asbestos.”

The Declaration follows on, to call for “the establishment of a National Asbestos Authority (NAA) for a Safe Asbestos Free Environment by 2030.” As the Declaration states: ‘A National Asbestos Authority (NAA) should initially be established as an independent authority with the appropriate powers to coordinate and enforce all of the aspects contained in the range of tasks and matters listed in this Declaration.”

The National Strategies for an Asbestos free Australia is an accompanying document which suggests how the objectives as set out by the National Declaration for a Safe Asbestos Free Australia may be achieved. These guidelines suggest that useful strategies to pursue these objectives include:

  • Increase the awareness on where ACMs are located, in environmental, industrial, commercial and domestic settings.

  • General public education must include advice to homeowners on the identification and safe handling of ACMs in existing domestic housing stock.

  • For local governments and environment protection agencies to train and license contractors for safe asbestos waste disposal and for the provision of adequate dedicated secure and permanent waste disposal sites.

  • A consistent national scheme of notifications of known asbestos exposure to contact a specific and appropriately resourced government entity which would have the responsibility to provide referral and education (e.g. akin to the existing notification system for infectious diseases).

  • Ensure that national OHS regulations provide protection from industrial exposures to asbestos containing materials.

  • Waste Disposal laws for ACMs must provide for dedicated asbestos waste areas, assist residents for safe removal and disposal and compliment other OHS, building and planning laws.

  • Building and planning and waste disposal laws must compliment national OHS based Asbestos Regulations, using such mechanisms as:

  • Audit of public buildings particularly in the health and education sectors, with asbestos registers and a target of prioritised removal by 2030;

  • In the commercial and industrial sectors; asbestos registers that include the program of prioritised removal by 2030 and a requirement for vendors and landlords and/or their agents to notify buyers and tenants of the asbestos register i.e. asbestos safety certificates;

  • For domestic housing stock, a requirement for the disclosure of ACMs, at the point of sale, with the purpose of the eventual removal of asbestos from of housing stock;

  • Landlords (including governments) and vendors and/or their agents in the residential dwelling sector being obliged to notify buyers and tenants of the presence of ACMs i.e. asbestos safety certificates.

  • National system of accreditation for asbestos assessors and auditors.

  • Review performance of asbestos removalists.

  • Additionally, governments must make arrangements for the allocation of funds in a coordinated approach for medical research.”

A National Strategy for a Safe Lead-Free Environment

Each point of the ACTU’s National Strategies is clearly a strategy remedy to a current asbestos exposure issue in order to achieve their goal of a ‘Safe Asbestos Free Environment by 2030’. Both the remedies and the exposure issues which they highlight clearly show the similarities between the asbestos and lead problems.

The similarity between the asbestos and lead issues and associated remedies is something which has not been discussed enough.

The LEAD Group suggests that every point of the ACTU’s National Strategies for an Asbestos free Australia is applicable and would be beneficial to Australian lead policy.

The extent of similarity between the two issues is shown by a comparison of the National Strategy with The LEAD Group’s ‘Model National Public Health Policy on the Prevention of Lead Poisoning’:

http://www.lead.org.au/Model_Australian_Public_Health_Policy_20101203.pdf and ‘The Model Work Health and Safety Regulations and Codes of Practice Public Comment Response Form submitted by Elizabeth O’Brien’ http://www.lead.org.au/O'Brien_submission_Model_Work_Health_and_Safety_Regulations

It would be true to say that a National Strategy for a Lead free Australia would look very similar to the ACTU’s list.

An example of an exposure issue of both asbestos and lead which demonstrates their similarity is that of rogue asbestos or ceiling dust removalists or demolition contractors. Rogue asbestos removalists/demolition contractors avoid testing for asbestos so that they don’t have to use asbestos safe practice which makes for a more time consuming and costly job due to equipment, training and waste disposal costs.

Building contractors quoting for roof replacement or renovation involving ceilings or breaking into the ceiling cavity have rarely been known to identify ceiling dust (which can contain asbestos fibres, but which always contains lead dust) as a hazard, or to write a Hazard Management Plan (required under OH&S Regulations) which takes the hazard of cavity dust into account by, for instance, requiring its removal by an Australian Dust Removalists Association (ADRA) member, prior to the building or demolition work starting.

The same is true for paint contractors testing for lead prior to doing a paint removal job, who avoid lead testing so that they don’t have to use lead safe practice which is similarly more time and resource costly.

The rogue removalists/demolition contractor problem is clearly identified in the ACTU’s National Strategies suggestion to review performance of asbestos removalists.

It is not only this suggestion which is applicable to the lead situation; each and every point of the National Strategies is directly compatible with an effective Australian lead policy.

In order to see the extent to which the National Declaration is incorporated into government policy we will have to wait for the review handed down by the Government's Asbestos Management Review Committee. The review is due by the 30th June 2012.

Let’s hope that, as an outcome, the Government produces an asbestos policy and, similarly, a lead policy, or better still, a lead and asbestos policy, that will guide us towards an asbestos-free and lead-safe Australia.

To read the National Declaration for a Safe Asbestos Free in full, see: http://www.actu.org.au/Images/Dynamic/attachments/6654/national_declaration_for_a_

And the National Strategies for an Asbestos free Australia at: http://www.actu.org.au/Images/Dynamic/attachments/6654/national_strategies_for_

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