Recent news of stop work action at the Queens’ Wharf site in the Brisbane CBD due to suspected asbestos contamination (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-12/qld-asbestos-scare-queens-wharf-construction-site/100533386) highlights the ongoing concerns about potential asbestos exposure, despite the fact that the manufacture and supply of asbestos products in Australia ceased for the most part nearly 40 years ago.
Fortunately, the presence of asbestos at the Queens’ Wharf site was ultimately ruled out by testing, but the fact that a supplier to the site admitted that there could be elements of asbestos in products it had imported from China made it more than just a baseless scare. And besides, the discovery of asbestos in Queensland workplaces is not an uncommon occurrence, with the ongoing concerns about asbestos in Queensland school buildings being just one example (https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/queensland/17-days-before-asbestos-clean-up-crews-were-sent-to-brisbane-school-20210729-p58dzy.html).
These discoveries of trace amounts of asbestos are an important safety concern because even small doses of asbestos exposure can cause the deadly cancer mesothelioma. By no means is it inevitable that asbestos exposure will cause mesothelioma and indeed statistically it is very unlikely, but statistics will be of no comfort to someone who actually contracts this terrible illness. The connection between minor asbestos exposures and mesothelioma is all too real and there can be no complacency about any level of asbestos exposure.
But if mesothelioma develops it takes decades to do so, and this so called “latency period” between exposure and disease creates an environment where complacency can take hold. It has been said that if everyone who is going to die of smoking related disease at some time in the future were instead to die of smoking related disease tomorrow, smoking would be outlawed instantly without the slightest opposition. So it is with asbestos: if the health effects of asbestos exposure were instant, asbestos and asbestos disease would have ceased to be an issue a long time ago.
But for those who contract mesothelioma in future as a result of exposure to asbestos in the workplace, substantial compensation can be claimed under the current compensation system in Queensland. Lump sum compensation is available through WorkCover Queensland, and in appropriate cases this may be able to be “topped up” with a claim for common law damages, especially where the sufferer of mesothelioma has had to stop work and will lose income, which is not covered by the WorkCover lump sum.
With asbestos continuing to be a reality in some Queensland workplaces, it is hoped that future State Governments will continue to preserve the current compensation system for the benefit of workers who develop mesothelioma as a result of workplace asbestos exposures occurring today.
Better still, let’s hope for a day when workplace asbestos exposure is very much a thing of the past.
This blog was written by John Vandeleur, Director
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