23rd September 2021, Phnom Penh. Cambodian Government representatives, employers and trade unions have come together to ramp up awareness about the dangers of using materials containing the deadly asbestos fibre in the country.
On September 22, members of Cambodian National Asbestos Profile Working Group (CNAPWG) – a collaboration led by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training between 11 Ministries, Employer groups and trade unions as well as international organisations such as ILO and Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA – jointly pledged to step up the fight to raise awareness of the health risks posed by these materials to both workers and consumers and to take action to eliminate asbestos related diseases over time in Cambodia.
At the virtual meeting, Mr Veasna Nuon, Union Aid Abroad APHEDA Country Manager, said in Cambodia, the health impacts of exposure including a range of cancers and chronic diseases, are generally unknown to the public in Cambodia. These cancers are completely avoidable if people don’t use asbestos containing materials he added.
According to a recent report by ILO and WHO, 209,000 people worldwide die annually from asbestos-related diseases (ARD). A total of 66 countries worldwide have banned its use. Despite Australia implementing a ban in January 2004, according to Asbestos Safety Eradication Agency, Australian Government, in 2019 about 4,500 deaths were still recorded from ARD. Additionally, in France, where a ban was introduced in 1997, asbestos causes between 10 and 20 percent of lung cancer cases.
To increase awareness across Cambodia, Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC) has delivered educational campaigns to more than 1,000 construction workers across Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Kampot. This is supported by a video, leaflets, booklets and an engaging social media campaign across multiple platforms. Construction workers are considered high risk to exposure, due to prevalence of building materials that may contain asbestos.
In addition, a National Asbestos Profile has been compiled by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training. This outlines the dangers asbestos exposure poses. This will be updated with current key information. This includes compensation schemes for ARD victims, the use of asbestos in construction materials and the import and export of asbestos products.
Despite this, more needs to be done to highlight the long-term impacts of asbestos exposure across Cambodia’s industries, from users and manufacturers to importers. Mr Sok Kin Building Workers Trade Union President “Some workers are aware of the impact of asbestos, but they have no choice. One reason is, it’s the only job they can do. Another reason is poverty. This is why employers have a key role to play in creating a safe working environment and educating employees. He also called for the current Working group to come up with a roadmap or action plan to phase out asbestos use in the country and manage remaining asbestos well in the country”.
DDG Dim Theng, CCF Ministry of Commerce, said the majority of goods tested that contained levels of asbestos were construction products. He suggested increasing testing and creating a label to inform people of asbestos-free materials. He added: “We have plans to use the national budget to carry out research on asbestos to eliminate it in goods, especially construction materials.”
Additional suggested measures to be implemented include educating communities about the dangers of asbestos and adding information about asbestos in the national curriculum. It was also recommended the awareness campaign be extended to other industries that are potentially exposed to asbestos.
Ms Yasuo Ariga, Overall Coordinator of the ILO-Japan Bilateral Program and Chief Technical Advisor of the ILO/Japan OSH Project in Cambodia, said ILO’s position on asbestos is governed by international regulations and codes of practice to promote safety in the workplace. She said: “These international instruments provide solid legal bases as well as practical guidance for comprehensive preventive measures at the national and enterprise levels in order to protect workers and prevent asbestos-related diseases.”
H.E Dr. Yi Kannitha, Ministry, Labor Advisor and Deputy Director of Occupational Health and Safety Department, Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, said: “Besides construction, there are many others using asbestos. We need to promote the impacts of asbestos to the people.”
This virtual forum took place ahead of the ABAN 2021 Conference. The virtual event is invite only and will be held from September 28 to 30. It will see members of asbestos ban networks and asbestos hazard activists from across Asia Pacific gather online. For more information on APHEDA, visit https://www.apheda.org.au/
Phillip Hazelton firstname.lastname@example.org
Veasna Nuon Veasna@apheda.org.au