On the 31st of December this year, as Australians cheer in a new year, we will also mark the 20th anniversary of the total ban of asbestos in this country. This was a critical milestone in our fight against asbestos related disease. It was more than 30 years in the making, and on the back of the efforts and struggles of millions of unionists, activists and campaigners to phase out and then ban the deadliest product that has ever entered the workplace.
Today, asbestos is responsible for the deaths of more than 25,000 workers every year. The World Bank says that by 2050 that number will rise to over half a million globally. It is without doubt the single biggest killer of workers in the world. In Australia more than 4,000 people lose their lives to asbestos related disease (ARD) every year, a number that continues to rise and is a tragic reminder that despite the achievement of a total ban the job is not done.
Asbestos leaves a long-lasting legacy. As a miner, manufacturer and user of asbestos products Australia has some of the highest per capita uses of asbestos in the world and with more than 6 million tonnes remaining in the built environment asbestos is now ubiquitous. It is in our homes, schools, factories and hospitals and requires careful and systematic identification and removal. Its presence in our soils highlights our failure to safely transfer and dispose of asbestos containing materials (ACMs) that now threaten future generations to exposure, disease and premature death.