Australian Asbestos Legislation
In late 2003, Australia enacted a ban on asbestos use that included blocking imports of all forms of the mineral, and barring the use of any asbestos materials in new projects. This step prevented asbestos problems from expanding, yet did not address the problems related to existing asbestos materials. Additional legislation has been spotty, with some steps accomplished to help victims of exposure, while other hoped-for actions failed to materialize.
Australia’s State Industrial Relations created a safety action plan to develop educational programs about asbestos and its use. The goal is to prevent additional cases of asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma, by raising awareness of risk factors. The programs will take place nationwide, distributing training materials and offering guidance to workers about the appropriate way to dispose of asbestos materials. Real estate agents and new homeowners will also receive the information, given the existing number of factories, schools, offices and homes that still contain asbestos.
South Australia has seen higher rates of mesothelioma than other areas of the country. In an effort to help curtail those rates, Safework SA developed the South Australian Asbestos Action Plan. Here, too, the goal is to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure.
The Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia has pushed repeatedly for transparency regarding asbestos use, and for legislation to help victims of exposure. Their efforts resulted in the release of information about the James Hardie and Wittenoom mines some had thought was destroyed long ago. These records revealed details contrary to previous reports, and could lead to additional action on behalf of victims.
Recent legislation has benefited victims in broadening the situations in which they can take legal action. Victoria, Australia, passed a law in 2008 allowing victims to bring claims for asbestosis ― an inflammatory lung disease ― and again later if they should develop mesothelioma. Previously, people were left to decide whether to bring a claim right away or wait to see if more serious problems developed.
Negligence is generally at the center of legal claims. The dangers of asbestos have been known for decades, yet many ignored the data and risked the health and safety of their workers in favor of convenience and profits. Most who suffered exposure had no idea they were in danger. They are now finding they have rights, even if the companies have gone out of business, or exposure happened in the distant past.