June 19, 2017

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Health and safety week

Health and Safety Week highlights the need for prevention and collaboration

As we kick off Health and Safety Week 2017, it’s important to take a moment to remember why prevention and collaboration are so crucial to our progress toward a safer world. As a leader in health and safety, the UK strengthens our resolve and provides a great example for the world to follow.

Although asbestos mining and use is big business, we’ve shared momentous global progress, from US legislative reform that will empower and ensure the EPA can ban asbestos to the asbestos ban announced in Canada, what none of us was expecting was to have our community infiltrated by an industry-hired spy.

Secret Agent Man

Robert Moore, a native son of the UK, was assigned by K2 Intelligence to infiltrate and report on the advocacy activities of the global anti-asbestos community. The case is currently in the UK’s High Court, and as such the company who hired K2 to spy remains undisclosed.

Moore, who was paid nearly half a million pounds for this job and travel, portrayed himself as a documentarian working on a World Health Organization (WHO) film about the asbestos industry in Asia. Moore has actually produced documentaries in the past, and leveraged his filmmaking credentials to increase his credibility while spying on our network. While his reach was broad, he focused on UK, Asian, and US based activists.

In the U.S., Moore impacted the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). He attended two of our International Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conferences, and even screened his documentary trailer at one. I remember having an uneasy feeling about him when I noticed how vigilantly he was photographing most presentation slides, even though we post speaker videos online.

Spies and Lies Abound

This is just the latest example in the sordid history of the worldwide fight to ban asbestos. Asbestos producers and users will go to any length to protect their toxic trade — even espionage, as we now know. Russia is the kingpin as they mine 1,000,000 metric tons of chrysotile asbestos each year. Unsurprisingly, Russia also leads the way when it comes to pro-asbestos propaganda and posturing. At the 2017 United Nations Rotterdam Convention in April, Russia, along with five other countries, blocked right-to-know regulations in the global asbestos trade.

Chrysotile producers and user countries together represent an estimated 50 percent of the world’s population, and being the David in a David v. Goliath fight like this requires collaboration. A great benefit of events like the U.K.’s Health and Safety Week is that they provide us an opportunity to come together — physically and virtually — to build and foster this crucial camaraderie.

Asbestos Remains a Health and Safety Threat

Although the U.K. totally banned asbestos in 1999, as a result of structural contamination, risk continues. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), “asbestos can be found in any building built before the year 2000 (houses, factories, offices, schools, hospitals etc) and causes around 5000 deaths every year.” That’s more than the number of people killed on the road.

As WHO states in their new fact sheet on the Elimination of Asbestos –Related Diseases, published June 13: “The elimination of asbestos-related diseases is a complex issue that requires collaboration between many sectors and disciplines to adopt, implement and monitor a series of coordinated actions and good practices.”Health and Safety Week (June 19-23) and the SHExpo (June 20-22) reinforces the WHO elimination programme.

Health and Safety Week aims to “inspire excellence in health & safety” by sharing news, stories, case studies, and guest blogs by experts in their fields featuring important health and safety facts for the public. The week will culminate June 20-22 with the Safety & Health Expo (SHExpo), the largest exhibition in the UK for health and safety professionals. More than 13,000 attendees are expected to come together to learn, network and discover new products & services.

Global Conversations and Action  

Health and Safety Week and the SHExpo is exactly the kind of collective strength we need as we fight together for our safer world. We’re up against an incredibly complex and deeply rooted problem when it comes to improving global health and safety and protecting people from deadly hazards like asbestos. It is imperative that in the face of such a challenge, we come together in a united front that can attack this problem from all sides. No matter your field or specialty — training, education, research, advocacy, environmentalism, or union organizing — we need you in this fight.

Partnering for prevention has long been a mantra for the anti-asbestos camp and ADAO, and we are pleased to support this week of events promoting the benefits of good health and safety, as we know, education saves lives. If you’re in the UK or able to get there, the SHExpo is free to attend, you can register for free tickets here. Join the conversation on Twitter by using #HSWeek17 or by following @Linda_ADAO and @HSafetyWeek.

Catch up on your summer fix of health and safety content

Missed the health and safety webinar, or want to listen again? Dive into Digital Week once again to explore the 'State of the health and safety profession, sourcing PPE in the age of COVID-19' webinar on-demand alongside IOSH President Andrew Sharman, SHP editor Ian Hart and their guests.

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Andrew Sharman

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