Asbestos-related disease remains a ticking time bomb for Australians because there is no nationally consistent approach to asbestos removal and management in buildings and infrastructure and poor data collection across states and territories, unions said today.
As unions and asbestos victims’ organizations mark Asbestos Awareness Week (Nov 23- 29, 2008) with events across the country, the ACTU is calling for greater co-ordination and renewed action to remove asbestos from homes, workplaces and public infrastructure.
It is also important employers and government agencies continue to highlight the risks for home owners and tradespeople who attempt renovations or repairs where asbestos may be present.
ACTU President Sharan Burrow said:
“Australia had one of the highest rates of asbestos use in the world and the highest known rate of mesothelioma sufferers in the world.
“Mesothelioma is a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos which causes extreme pain and breathlessness as the lung is crushed by tumour.  It is inevitably fatal within about 9–12 months of diagnosis and there are currently no cures for the disease. 
“Although the use of asbestos is now banned we still have thousands of buildings that contain the deadly substance and because the time of first exposure to the onset of mesothelioma averages 37 years we are yet to see the full impact. Each year, 40,000 tonnes of asbestos waste is generated.
“By 2020, there will have been about 13,000 cases of mesothelioma in Australia, with another one or two cases of asbestos-related lung cancer for each mesothelioma. These alarming figures show the huge scale of suffering and devastation experienced by Australians who contract asbestos-related disease.
“After many years of concerted union activity, we have seen use of asbestos banned and greater compensation for people with asbestos-related diseases, particularly for victims of James Hardie asbestos products,” said Ms Burrow. 
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission is currently pursuing seven former directors and three former company officers of James Hardie for alleged breaches relating to asbestos compensation.
Unions welcome the Federal Government’s commitment to addressing asbestos hazards via a new national workplace health and safety body, Safe Work Australia. Unions also call for:
– Greater support for medical research into treatments for people with asbestos-related disease.
– Accurate national statistics on deaths and illness from workplace exposures to carcinogens such as asbestos.
Asbestos Awareness Week events are planned in most capitals and many regional centres.