James Hardie Industries Limited is a key asbestos manufacturing and mining company in Australia. The company is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange and is a specialist in the products in fiber cement. Asbestos companies usually have significant workplace health and safety (WHS) issues for their workers and the associated risks have to be controlled. Inhalation of asbestos while mining or manufacturing can have serious health issues that can even prove to be fatal like asbestosis, mesothelioma lung cancer (Stayner, Welch and Lemen 2013). Diseases related to asbestos can be severe and the symptoms persist even after the exposure has been ceased. Australia has been suffering the mesothelioma death rate in the second highest position in the world.
The WHS Act of Australia sets the guidelines for the industries for notifying the workplace incidents. The safety incidents that are most serious have to be notified to the regulators as health issues arising from asbestos inhalation can lead to serious health consequences (Kottek and Kilpatrick 2016). James Hardie Industries has set out guidelines for the controlling the occupational environment and promote safety and health leadership. Wellness of the employees is a priority for the company and it strives to comply with the environmental regulations and rules, for protecting the environment from the disaster of asbestos dust (Safeworkaustralia.gov.au, 2016).
James Hardie Industries Limited was founded in Melbourne, Australia in the year 1988 and has been headquartered in Ireland. The presence of the company is worldwide and is active in several countries of the world. In Australia, the company is present in New South Wales and Queensland (Jameshardie.com, 2016). The number of employees working in the company is approximately 2500 and the revenue of the company are A$ 1.5 billion.
The exposure to asbestos fibers can have hazards that have the potential impact of severe health hazards on the workers. The fibers are accumulated in the lungs leading to inflammation and scarring. This consequently makes breathing difficult and eventually lands up in lung cancer (Hickey, Saunders and Davern 2015). The symptoms of the disease appear about 10 – 50 years after the initial exposure. The employees if do not take preventive measures will keep on inhaling high level of asbestos that can cause diseases like COPD, lung disease, asbestosis, etc. Therefore, it is extremely important that the employees should be kept protected from potential hazards (van Oyen et al. 2015). The employees have eight hours daily duty hours where are on the risk of potential exposure to asbestos fibers. Various psychosocial and human factors can also lead to health hazards of the workers in the asbestos industries. Some of these factors are insecurity at the job, high job demands and work intensification, bullying, harassment and violence and high rates of exposure to work and work-life balance.
Two of the health hazards of asbestos exposure have been discussed below.
- Asbestosis: It is a chronic lung disease that develops scar like tissues called pulmonary fibrosis in the lungs. The lung elasticity is decreased and makes it difficult to breath. The symptom is shortness of breath and it requires several years of exposure to the fibers of asbestos. The disease progresses gradually over a period of 5 – 10 years (Brims et al., 2015).
- Mesothelioma: It is developed because of the asbestos fibers and its occupational exposure. It is an aggressive fatal cancer that arises from the pleural lining mesothelial cells and the pericardial and peritoneal cavities. The disease develops over 30 -40 years of exposure to asbestos and the risk factor increases exponentially 10 years after initial exposure. Mesothelioma may be fatal within a small duration and can be extended for longer periods as well, depending upon the intensity of exposure (Soeberg et al. 2016). Symptoms are shoulder and chest pain along with a dry cough and progression of cancer causes fever, weakness and weight loss.
While the business is about to start its safety journey, it should lay down its WHS risk management processes should be introduced as a priority factor. It serves as guidance for managing risks that are associated with exposure to asbestos fibers at the workplace and aim at reducing the related health hazards.
The risk management procedure must include the following as discussed below.
- Roles and responsibilities of all the employees starting from the managers to the workers, including the WHS team.
- Asbestos-associated risk management in accordance with the risk management and hazard identification procedure.
- Asbestos disposal and removal procedures with appropriate and licensed permits for asbestos removal work.
- Identification and establishment of prohibited work places and asbestos monitoring for the respirable fiber levels in the worker-breathing zone.
- Management of incidents due to the exposure to asbestos and developing a plan for emergency response.
- Training requirements for increasing the knowledge and skills for understanding the health hazards that are associated with asbestos exposure.
- Audit and monitoring for the analysis of hazard trending and integrated management schedule for the procedure of internal audit.
- Record keeping for the reports of an asbestos survey that includes amendments and updates with the results of air monitoring of asbestos fibers (Safeworkaustralia.gov.au, 2016).
Setting up of a WHS risk management process can benefit the business in several ways and the tasks have to be prioritized as per their necessity. The benefits of the process have been summarized in four steps, as per their priorities.
- Hazard identification: The WHS management process helps to identify the hazards that may cause potential harm to the employees. The hazard points are identified and suitable methods for reducing them can be established.
- Risk assessment: The WHS management process helps to assess the risk associated with asbestos fibers exposure. The safety measures can be designed by assessing the risks.
- Risk control: Controlling the risks of asbestos exposure is ranked from the maximum reliability and protection to the minimum level. This risk control hierarchy helps in eliminating, substituting and isolating the work practices that are hazardous.
- Measures of review control: WHS management helps in implementation of the control measures for proper working as per the plans for risk control. A new hazard, when identified, is controlled by the hazard identification steps (Comcare.gov.au, 2016).
Brims, F., Musk, B., Reid, A., Pang, S., Franklin, P., Peters, S. and De Klerk, N. (2015).Presence of pleural plaques and/or asbestosis and the risk of lung cancer in a Crocidolite asbestos exposed population from Western Australia.
Comcare.gov.au. (2016). Codes of practice.
Hickey, J., Saunders, J. and Davern, P., 2015. The extent and influence of Asbestos Safety Awareness training among managers who had previously commissioned an asbestos survey in their workplace buildings. Industrial health, 53(5), p.398.
Jameshardie.com. (2016). James Hardie - About Us | Our Company.
Kottek, M. and Kilpatrick, D.J., 2016. Estimating occupational exposure to asbestos in Australia. Annals of Occupational Hygiene, p.mew002.
Safeworkaustralia.gov.au. (2016). Asbestos - Safe Work Australia.
Safeworkaustralia.gov.au. (2016). Model Codes of Practice - Safe Work Australia.
Soeberg, M.J., Leigh, J., Driscoll, T., Armstrong, B., Young, J.M. and van Zandwijk, N., 2016. Incidence and survival trends for malignant pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, Australia, 1982–2009. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, pp.oemed-2015.
Stayner, L., Welch, L.S. and Lemen, R., 2013. The worldwide pandemic of asbestos-related diseases. Annual review of public health, 34, pp.205-216.
van Oyen, S.C., Peters, S., Alfonso, H., Fritschi, L., de Klerk, N.H., Reid, A., Franklin, P., Gordon, L., Benke, G. and Musk, A.W., 2015.