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The Asbestos Disaster - Who Is To Blame

By Tony McGlinn

The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were all aware of the health dangers of asbestos. It seems strange that the asbestos industry in many parts of the world chose to ignore the risks.

Even if the ancient wisdom had been lost, insurance companies were refusing to insure asbestos workers, or charging higher premiums for them by the 1920's. 50 Years later some companies in the asbestos industry were still doing nothing to protect their workers.

To be fair, the workers themselves had the same access to information as the companies, so must also take responsibility for their actions in deciding to work in a dangerous industry. In many respects that decision was similar to the decision that many people still take on a daily basis today - to smoke a cigarette. The apparent benefit of taking home a pay check overrode the distant possibility of death for those workers and their families, just as the immediate pleasure of a cigarette does for smokers today.

Having said that, I believe that the employers have a duty to ensure that their workers are in as safe an environment as possible, and that they are aware of the risks, so that if they decide to work there, they are making an informed decision. Clearly this did not always happen, and as a result the industry is going through a series of lawsuits, where people who have become ill are suing for compensation. Many companies around the world have already gone bankrupt as a result of this, and the process appears to be continuing. In the US there is legislation proposed to pay compensation from a central fund, but this proposal seems unlikely to succeed because of the level of agreement that will be required on how the money in the fund will be collected.

Both workers and employers in all types of business would do well to reflect on this sorry saga where no-one with the possible exception of a few lawyers, will ever feel that the decision to either work in, or employ people in a dangerous environment, was justified.


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