Daily Times – NA body decides to recommend ban on asbestos

(Written by Sajid Chaudhry)

1 January 2013 - ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Resource Development on Monday decided to recommend complete ban on the import and use of dangerous chemical ‘asbestos’ in 22 industries of the country to safeguard the health of workers.

The NA body met in the Parliament House with MNA Shagufta Jumani in the chair. After having complete briefing on dangerous affects of the asbestos, the members and chair were of the view that a complete ban on import and use of asbestos be imposed.

It was also decided that a calling attention notice would also be submitted in the NA for this purpose and decision of the committee meeting would be forwarded to the Ministry of Commerce and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) for banning the import of asbestos.

The committee also recommended the Ministry of Human Resource Development to write letters to all relevant departments of four provinces, Commerce Ministry and FBR to have adequate arrangements for safeguarding the health of the industrial workers in the country.

Federal Human Resource Secretary Raja Ahsan informed the committee that asbestos is a chemical substance used in various manufacturing processes in Pakistan, like in cement industries, gaskets, roof coating, frictions materials, fabrics, yarn, thread, gloves, clothing, fibre joining, re-enforcing agents in rubber, plastic sheets, plastic panels, chemicals filters, break lining, clutches, construction materials, pipes, roof tiles, heat resistant insulators, furnace and hot pipe coverings.

He strongly recommended its import and use in the country and informed the committee that after thousands of industrial workers deaths in Australia, its use was first banned. After that some 55 countries have so far banned its import and use to protect their workers. He informed that in Pakistan the import and use of asbestos is still underway and there is a major threat of spread of cancer disease in industrial workers across the country.

The committee was also informed that countries which have banned the asbestos import and use included Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brunei, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, South Korea, Kuwait, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Caledonia, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Asbestos is a carcinogenic to human and can cause serious damage to health by prolonged exposure through inhalation. There is general consensus among the scientific community that all types of asbestos are carcinogenic according to Royal Society of Canada, 1996 as cited by European Commission, 1997 and can cause asbestoses, lung cancer and mesothelioma when inhaled for a long period.

In order to protect workers industries using such involved in manufacturing processing where asbestos is used experts opinion was sought from the Centre for the Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment (CIWCE) Lahore director. The director has pointed out that there is no doubt that exposure to asbestos fibres through air is linked with mesothelioma (a form of lung cancer). So far, over 50 countries have banned its use, however, a number of countries have not imposed a complete ban on its use. He has also suggested that a complete ban on use and import of asbestos may affect many industries including those making or importing products with very little chance of human exposure.

The CIWCE director has also recommended that ban may be imposed on import and use of asbestos in all sectors with exceptions granted to the products and usage with very low possibility of human exposure and marked benefits of the use of asbestos.

The Workers Welfare Fund (WWF) officials present in the meeting also informed the meeting that legal hairs of some 295 workers, who lost their lives in a fire incident in garment factory located in Karachi, have been compensated with Rs 500,000 per person. Similarly, Punjab government has also provided similar level of financial support to the legal hairs of the workers killed in fire at garments factory in Lahore. The officials also informed the meeting that under the Provincial Compensation Act, the legal hairs of the both incidents could claim Rs 200,000 more for each killed worker as compensation. They also recommended the committee that the legal hairs of the workers should be informed about further compensation.