Fun, seriousness and sadness mark 2016 Asbestos Awareness Week launch
There was a bit of seriousness, a lot of information and some fun as crowds gathered in Brisbane city’s Reddacliff Place for the official launch of Asbestos Awareness Week 2016 on November 22.
Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace used the launch to remind home and amateur renovators they were as much in danger from the product as construction workers who perhaps inhaled fibres every day.
And her point was tragically brought home when Workplace Health and Safety Queensland safety advocates Don and Julie Sager took to the stage with the story of their son Adam, who died from pleural mesothelioma in 2007 at just 25 years of age.
Young Adam didn’t catch the disease as a result of working with asbestos. His illness could be dated back to the early 80s when, as a toddler, he inhaled asbestos fibres as he helped his parents clean up while they were renovating their first home.
Minister Grace said the Sagers’ case was typical of many people who contract an asbestos-related disease, unaware they had even been in contact with the deadly fibres in the first place.
Even today, after three decades of being banned in Australia, it was important for people to remember asbestos continued to be present and dangerous.
“An estimated one in three homes contains asbestos in Australia, so it is vital that trades and DIYers alike understand how to work with the old building material safely,” she said.
“Deaths from asbestos-related diseases remain a sad reality, as it can take many years for the symptoms to emerge and in many cases people aren’t even aware that they have been working with asbestos materials.”
Ms Grace’s concerns echo those of the Asbestos Diseases Support Society, which fears instances of asbestos-related disease is moving from the traditional base of construction and manufacturing workers to home renovators and other people from all walks of life.
It was also confirmed by Julie and Don Sager who never imagined their son was living with deadly organisms inside him as he grew from a toddler to a young man.
“We always thought he was healthy when growing up, but this just came unexpectedly,” Julie told the launch audience.
“People need to be made aware of the dangers and that it can take decades to manifest itself into a disease.”
She said it was hard to know who might be affected. It wasn’t always the person in direct contact with the asbestos fibres that suffered as a result.
Wives who had washed their husband’s asbestos-coated clothes had been known to contract an asbestos-related disease, while their partner who worked directly with the product was unaffected.
“It’s not discriminatory. It can and does affect everybody.,” he said.
Julie said young people in particular needed to know it was okay to stop work if they were concerned about material they were working with.
“They shouldn’t listen to older co-workers who say ‘I have been working with this material for years and nothing has happened to me’,” Julie said.
“If they think there is a problem and are concerned, they need to speak up. They need to look after their own health.”
Channel 7’s House Rules winners Cody and Luke Cook added a bit of humour to the event, with a fun quiz about a serious topic, but also related their experiences with asbestos during their stint on the popular show and in their own careers as a diesel mechanic (Cody) and electrician (Luke).
But they also repeated warnings asbestos was a hidden danger.
“If you touch a hot stove, you know not to do it again because you get burnt. Same as when you get a shock from touching the wrong electrical cord,” Luke said.
“Asbestos isn’t like that. There are no warning signs that a wall or part of a house might be dangerous. You have to be so careful.”
The twins later braved an unseasonably warm November day to demonstrate some of the important clothing and equipment trades people and renovators should use if they suspect asbestos in the area they are working in.
Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace officially launches Asbestos Awareness Week 2016