Workers at a Western Australian Alcoa refinery have been exposed to asbestos while cutting away roof sheets, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has revealed.
Seven employees were carrying out maintenance tasks on a mud thickener at the Kwinana plant south of Perth when the incident occurred. According to the ABC, a white powdery substance was unveiled when the roof sheets were removed.
After union representatives investigated the incident and requested further testing, the material was found to be asbestos. The exposure, which happened in May, came just one month after CFMEU highlighted the importance of International Workers Memorial Day.
The April 28 event commemorates personnel across the world who are seriously injured, disabled and killed in the course of their duties. CFMEU said asbestos-related diseases affect 100,000 people across the globe each year.
Asbestos risk 'limited'
While workers were exposed to asbestos at Kwinana, Alcoa claims the resulting health risks are extremely low. The company added it was concerned any misinformation about the incident could impact contractors currently at the facility.
Nevertheless, CFMEU WA Secretary Mike Buchan said there should be an immediate audit of Alcoa's operations in the state. He told the ABC his organisation was also worried about secondary exposures that may affect employees' families.
"The workers involved are being given a letter of potential exposure, which is set out among WorkCover and WorkSafe legislation, [but] the damage is already done and in 2015, just not good enough," he said.
"We'd say that it'd be necessary to have identification at the entrance explaining what potential hazards are within the vicinity or in the area so workers can be alerted prior to any work commencing."
Asbestos claims in NSW
Workers who are exposed to asbestos in NSW can make claims for compensation if they are subsequently diagnosed with a critical illness. Mesothelioma and asbestosis are just two of the diseases linked to breathing in the hazardous material.
The NSW Dust Diseases Tribunal is a specialist court that deals with asbestos-related claims in the state. One of the reasons it was set up is because the life expectancy and longevity of people diagnosed with such illnesses is relatively low.
This means legal proceedings must be expedited to have the best chance of the plaintiff surviving to see the outcome of their case.
For more information on dust disease legislation in NSW, please contact specialist compensation lawyers at Gerard Malouf & Partners.