A Chinese delegation has taken a proactive step in the ongoing global asbestos battle after meeting with asbestos experts on the Gold Coast yesterday (April 17, 2012).
The delegation of Chinese Work Safety officials met at the OCTIEF Group’s Southport laboratory to discuss ways of implementing prohibition and removing the deadly material from one of its major provinces, Fujian Province, home to 38 million people.
The milestone meeting with the OCTIEF Group was organised by the Australian Technical Experts Network (ATEN), which is coordinating the delegation’s 21-day visit to Australia.
“It was great to have OCTIEF host the delegation as we feel it’s beneficial for the Australian and the Chinese governments to support each other for the promotion of OHS regulations in the workforce environments, particularly in the asbestos and chemistry-related industries,” said Connie Way, External Coordinator with the ATEN.
With China being a nation that still has not prohibited the import and use of asbestos, the delegation requested the meeting to gain a better understanding on the health risks of asbestos, Australian asbestos legislation, public and private sector collaboration on asbestos management and handling, how such strategies have been addressed and how successful implementation has really been to date.
The 16 Chinese nationals, who are all Directors or Vice Directors from Work Safety departments across a number of Fujian Province’s largest cities, look after the workplace safety monitoring and management in the areas of coal mining, chemical, construction and the civil environment.
They met with OCTIEF’s Managing Director (Asia Pacific) Kevin O’Hara and OCTIEF Group General Manager Jonathan Brunke at one of OCTIEF’s dedicated HAZMAT facilities in Arundel for a high level forum on asbestos management.
“We discussed the nature of asbestos as a contaminant, the Australian Government legislative and regulatory processes, estimates of the economic impact, and in particular, how effective OCTIEF Management felt the various government strategies had been,” said Mr O’Hara.
“They were eager to learn about industrial chemical treatments, asbestos management strategies, including asbestos removal, clearance inspections, and the procedures that protect employees from being threatened by these hazardous materials.”
Mr O’Hara said yesterday’s briefing with the Chinese delegation was a great success.
“I think it was amazing to be honest – the meeting went extremely well and it was very exciting to see the high calibre of Chinese Government officials together in one room at OCTIEF to discuss what could in effect increase the safety of the entire Chinese construction and housing industry,” said Mr O’Hara.
“They were very attentive to our discussion on how to better manage asbestos, how they could possibly better regulate the use of asbestos in China and how as one of the world’s leading nations, they could assist the rest of the world in combating the asbestos nightmare – particularly other Asian nations.”
Mr O’Hara – who sits on the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygiene Communication Committee with members such as BHP Billiton’s Eric Lengling, and Martin Jennings, Senior Occupational Hygienist with the Australian Department of Defence Centre for Occupational Health – said the OCTIEF Group was ideally placed to brief the delegation, being a leading global provider of professional consultancy and laboratory services with a particular focus on large scale asbestos and hazardous materials management, and disaster response.
“Via the official interpreter, head of the delegation Mr Wang Zhiming expressed that the delegation had gained a lot of valuable information and he requested that each of the delegates have an open communication channel with OCTIEF to allow for the provision of ongoing support,” said Mr O’Hara.
“If China does commit to removing and banning asbestos, this could mean the difference for millions of Chinese people and indeed, other Asian countries following suit over the next few decades, so I can’t over emphasise what a milestone today could be for world health,” he said.
“If we are going to reduce the rate of asbestos exposure globally, I think it’s fundamental that superpowers like China follow in the footsteps of organisations such as the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygiene (AIOH), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and the Australian Workers Union (AWU) among others.
“We know asbestos kills people, we want to remove it but we understand it’s not so easy for places such as China because of the sheer scale of population, but this is huge step in the right direction.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have died, are dying today and will continue to die around the world until we rid the world of asbestos.”
Yossi Berger, Occupational Health and Safety Director for the AWU, was unable to attend the meeting at the OCTIEF Group’s offices, but confirmed an enormous number of Chinese workers are killed each year in coal mining, with many more being exposed to asbestos fibres leading to severe illness and death.
John Carter, ardent supporter of the Bernie Banton Foundation and Vice President for the Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia (ADSSA), said it was a case of ‘better late than never’ with asbestos.
“It’s never too late and we know steps like this don’t happen overnight but if a country like China takes this step then it’s a huge leap forward because of their position of power – Asia needs a leader on the asbestos issue,” said Mr Carter.
“I know Bernie would be happy to see anything like this progressing,” he said, referring to the late Bernie Banton who died in 2007, remembered as the face of the legal and political campaign to achieve compensation for the many James Hardie workers who suffered asbestos-related conditions.
Karen Banton-Smith, Bernie Banton’s widow and CEO of the Bernie Banton Foundation said having the Chinese Delegates come to Australia to learn about asbestos, its legacy in our country and how we have learned from our mistakes, was a good thing.
“I believe it’s to be commended that a company is encouraging and succeeding in having a delegation from China, to come and learn from the mistakes that were made last century by Australians and our awful legacy,” Karen said.
“The fact that Australia has the highest [asbestos related disease] incidence per capita, for a Province in China to want to learn from the mistakes that Australia has made, and the huge fact that they are a force on the world stage, industrially, it has to be a good thing.”
On April 13, 2012, Karen remarried to Rod Smith, a mobile crane company owner and operator who similarly lost his partner, Julie to mesothelioma in mid-2011. Due to Julie’s illness, Rod became invovlded in the Asbestos Diseases Society of Victoria (ADSVIC) becoming its President from February 2010 – March 2011. As President of ADSVIC, Rod regularly corresponded with Karen through the Bernie Banton Foundation, finally meeting her in person at the Asbestos Summit held in Sydney in June 2010. Karen became a family friend of Rod and Julie’s, supporting them both through Julie’s terrible illness.
Today, Rod is the Operations Manager for the Bernie Banton Foundation and called OCTIEF’s meeting with the Chinese Delegation “a wonderful step forward.”
“The fact that any delegation from China, has come to Australia in what we would call a positive sense – to discuss the best ways to stop using, manufacturing and the eradication of asbestos containing products, and to cease mining or exporting asbestos and asbestos containing products – is certainly a huge inroad in our global fight against asbestos,” Rod said.
“It’s encouraging that a powerhouse like China feels that we have a company in Australia that actually has the expertise that they can learn from, given our small population,” he said.
“The Chinese delegation has come to Australia for guidance, because of the knowledge that is in Australia offered by companies such as OCTIEF, and the fact Australian scientists and researchers lead their field.
“We should be very proud and encouraged by that.”
MEDIA CONTACTS FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Kevin O’Hara, Managing Director (Asia Pacific) for The OCTIEF Group
T: 07 5500 2802 or 0405 710 283, E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: www.octief.com.au
Connie Way, External Coordinator with the Australian Technical Experts Network (ATEN)
T:02 9575 4859 or 02 6201 5701, E: email@example.com