Helena Valley mum campaigns for asbestos awareness

Electrical pre-apprentice Sean Morris, the grandson of mesothelioma campaigner Barry Knowles. Picture: Bruce Hunt www.communitypix.com.au d472527
Pre-apprentice Sam Dicker.
Electrical pre-apprentice Sean Morris, the grandson of mesothelioma campaigner Barry Knowles. Picture: Bruce Hunt www.communitypix.com.au d472527 Pre-apprentice Sam Dicker.

ASBESTOS awareness campaigner Jo Morris doesn’t want to lose her 17-year-old son Sean to the cancer that killed her father Barry Knowles.

Mr Knowles died from mesothelioma after a long battle on Christmas Eve, but his legacy lives on through his charity Reflections Through Reality.

An initiative to help protect young tradies from the dangers of asbestos is the result of a new partnership between the charity and Swan Trade Teaching Centre (STTC).

Mrs Morris contacted STTC Head Peter Bolt about providing more extensive training on asbestos risk soon after her son started an electrical pre-apprenticeship at the Middle Swan centre.

“Having experienced first-hand the devastation of mesothelioma, I’m passionate about increasing awareness and, therefore, the likelihood of exposure to our younger generations,” she said.

“We have to live with the legacy of asbestos for many years to come, but with more awareness we can reduce the risk of dying because of it.”

University of WA Senior Research Fellow Dr Peter Franklin and national environmental manager for ANZ Enviro Shaun Leech presented a seminar about asbestos risk to 100 STTC students on Friday.

“With so much asbestos-containing material still in our homes, community buildings and commercial properties, those now at most risk of asbestos exposure are home renovators and tradies such as electricians and plumbers,” Mrs Morris said.

“With some basic awareness of the places where asbestos might be found and what to do should they come across it, the risks of exposure can be reduced.”

Mrs Morris, of Helena Valley, said mesothelioma was a terminal cancer that could lie dormant for decades before any symptoms were noticed.

“It is not an ‘old man’s disease’,” she said.

“In the past, when asbestos-containing materials were used, tradies were often not aware of the risks, which has resulted in the deaths of many over recent years,” she said.

Mr Bolt said the key message students took away was to work with caution and never take unnecessary risks.

“We intend to make the asbestos awareness seminar an annual event at STTC and will be meeting with construction trainers to develop a broader program,” he said.

Electrician, carpentry and plumbing pre-apprentice students in years 11 and 12 have to complete 200 hours of work experience.

Mr Bolt said asbestos-containing products were used in Australia until late 2003 and remain in use in China and Russia.

“Asbestos is a hidden danger as you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it and you can’t see the microscopic fibres that get into your lungs and can cause the damage,” he said.

It is commonly found in pipe and water heater lagging, insulation, insulation, floor tiles, carpet underlay and bath panels.

Fast Facts

Asbestos can cause terminal cancers.

WA has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world per head of capita.

One person dies every 12 hours in Australia from the effects of mesothelioma.