Deakin University

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Community views on responding to a local asbestos disease epidemic : implications for policy and practice

journal contribution
posted on 2005-01-01, 00:00 authored by Tony LaMontagneTony LaMontagne, H Walker
The Latrobe Valley region of Victoria, Australia, has the highest rate of asbestos disease in the state due to extensive past use of asbestos in the power industry. Current responses to asbestos disease epidemics in Australia and internationally are dominated by medical, scientific, legal and government perspectives. The voices and perspectives of those most directly affected – exposed and diseased workers, their families and communities – are relatively rarely heard.A qualitative interview study was conducted to determine what people in the Latrobe Valley community think could or should be done following their own asbestos disease epidemic. Analysis identified several themes. Notably, these represent a sophisticated community understanding of issues that is largely consistent with state-of-the-art occupational health and public health knowledge.Some themes are well known already, eg the need for fair and timely compensation, adequate healthcare facilities and services, and more education. Others point to neglected possibilities, such as the need for reconciliation and social healing to complement the dominant individual medico-legal focus. Employer suppression of hazard information and denial of asbestos-related disease in past decades continues to have a profound effect on people's views in the present. Reconciliation in some form, eg acknowledgement of or apology for past wrongs, was identified as a necessary first step in developing new and better policy and practice responses; action in this regard has important implications for the implementation and effectiveness of other policy and practice interventions. Further, a need for substantive community participation in the development of policy and practice responses – currently lacking – was identified. Findings suggest that community is an under-recognised and under-utilised resource in responding to a local asbestos disease epidemic.The Latrobe Valley situation is a microcosm of the broader Australian and international story. It offers insights on the perspectives of those most affected by asbestos issues, how such people and their views can be used to strengthen current policy and practice responses, and how their participation is essential to building comprehensive public and social health responses to this global problem.



Policy and practice in health and safety






69 - 84


IOSH Services


Wigston, Eng.







Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal