Latrobe Valley Report 2004

A 2004 report from the Centre of Health & Society (School of Population Health at the University of Melbourne) on the perspectives workers exposed to asbestos, and their families, from the Latrobe Valley.

Asbestos diseases are estimated to have been wholly or partly responsible for ~25,000 deaths in Australia – and it is estimated that there will be 10,000 more mesotheliomas and 20,000 more lung cancers. Yet, according to researchers from the Centre for the Study of Health & Society,  'the voices and perspectives of those most directly affected – exposed and diseased workers, their families and communities – are rarely heard.'

'Current responses to abestos disease epidemics in Australia and internationally are dominated by medical, scientific, legal and government perspectives.... While there are some valuable accounts of the lived experiences of people affected through occupational exposures, situations in which the public is put at risk through environmental exposure seem to garner far greater political attention and sympathy.'

However, the vast majority of asbestos disease is work-related and 'occurs in local or regional epidemics - in the communities surrounding shipyards, train yards, power stations, mills, and other current and past industrial centres and settings.'

And so, Hannah H. Walker and Anthony D. LaMontagne, with funding under a Victorian Health Promotion Foundation Senior Fellowship, decided to get this perspective. went to the Latrobe Valley of eastern Victoria, a community seriously affected by asbestos disease. They conducted interviews with 42 people, men and women who have lived and worked in the Latrobe Valley. Some were ex-workers, some were had an asbestos-related disease, others had lost relatives through asbestos-related illness, while others were community members involved in asbestos support or advocacy work in the Valley.

The result is the report: 'Work and Health in the Latrobe Valley: Community Perspectives on Asbestos Issues'. The report can be downloaded here.

The aims of the researchers were to determine:

  1. How people in the community view asbestos issues, and
  2. What people in the community think could or should be done about these issues.

The researchers hoped the project would help to strengthen the voice of the community and enable it to have a greater influence in developing responses to asbestos issues. In addition, they stated:

'..this study was designed as a first step towards the development of collaborative community-based intervention projects to address asbestos issues in the Latrobe Valley...it was designed to build a foundation of mutual understanding and respect between the researchers and the community from which collaborative intervention projects could be launched.'

Conclusions of the study

 The report outlines two overarching themes the researchers believed were most relevant to finding 'new and better ways to respond to the Latrobe Valley microcosm of Australia's on-going asbestos epidemic' :

'First, a fundamental premise of public health - and the 'new public health' in particular - is that in addressing public health problems, the participation of those most affected in the formulation of a response is essential'
Walker and LaMontagne found that there needed to be substantial improvement in this area.

'Second, the demonstrated social and emotional needs of people affected by asbestos disease and associated issues, and the void filled in this regard by the Latrobe Valley community, points to the need for social- and community-level responses to asbestos issues. Responses to date have been dominated by medical, scientific and legal concerns.'

Last amended May 2015

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