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July 17, 2018

Half of all Mr Fluffy asbestos home owners join ACT government buyback

The demolition of Mr Fluffy asbestos homes across Canberra is expected to get under way after June this year with more than half already acquired by the ACT government.

Acting Chief Minister Simon Corbell announced on Friday more than half of all homeowners had accepted offers made through the buyback program, four months before the scheme closes.

Already 511 offers have been accepted from the 1021 affected properties in the ACT.

Mr Corbell said the latest results showed many affected homeowners were taking the opportunity to move on to another property.

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“I encourage homeowners who are still considering whether or not to enter the buyback program to discuss their individual circumstances with the Asbestos Response Taskforce around what support can be provided,” he said in a statement.

The government now owns 131 properties and is overseeing security and maintenance.

A pilot demolition program of a small number of affected properties will start in late March to confirm procurement, demolition and communications processes.

Two of the properties included in the pilot will be public housing.

“The Mr Fluffy response is not only an ACT government, but an ACT community response,” Mr Corbell said.

“It is an issue affecting 58 suburbs across the territory and has a cost to our community of at least $400 million, even after the resale of remediated blocks. It is, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the ACT for years to come.”

This week Chief Minister Andrew Barr said some compulsory acquisitions could be required if affected homeowners decided not to join the buyback scheme before June 30.

He warned homeowners they would not receive a better offer as a result of not signing up.

Mr Corbell said the taskforce would be working closely with the community ahead of the demolition program to ensure safety and security.

“Reducing the impact to the community through efficient scheduling of demolition works will also be a paramount consideration,” he said.

Tenders for the demolitions are being finalised, a spokeswoman for the Asbestos Taskforce said last week.

The government has confirmed it owns affected houses in the following suburbs: Forrest, Ainslie, Downer, Griffith, Hackett, Narrabundah, O’Connor, Watson, Yarralumla, Kambah, Wanniassa, Chapman, Chifley, Curtin, Duffy, Farrer, Fisher, Garran, Holder, Hughes, Lyons, Mawson, Pearce, Rivett, Stirling, Torrens, Waramanga, Weston, Aranda, Charnwood, Cook, Evatt, Flynn, Giralang, Higgins, Holt, Latham, Macgregor, Macquarie, Melba, Page, Scullin, Spence, Weetangera.

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Half of all Mr Fluffy asbestos home owners join ACT government buyback

Asbestos risk 'very low' in quake repairs: Worksafe

Asbestos risk ‘very low’ in quake repairs: Worksafe

CECILE MEIER

Last updated 17:38, December 8 2014

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) failed to manage asbestos risks in earthquake home repairs, a report says.

WorkSafe New Zealand has released its findings from an investigation into EQC’s Canterbury home repair programme, which began in 2011. It found deficiencies but not enough to lay charges because the risks to homeowners and contractors had been “very low”.

The investigation found:

– Prior to June 2012, asbestos was seldom discussed or tested for.

– EQC contractors took waste from repairs to a dump that was not approved for asbestos-contaminated material.

– Within a sample of 35 home repairs, WorkSafe found contractors often started repairs “without [providing] any record of an adequate safety plan”. There were only 12 safety plans in the sample of 35 home repairs.

– Six out of 10 homes tested as part of the investigation contained asbestos. In these houses, repairs had been completed without prior testing.

Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey questioned the findings because 10 homes only had been tested as part of the investigation.

“To hold such firm conclusions after testing on such a small sample seems to be drawing an extremely long bow knowing at least 9000 homes are likely to contain asbestos,”he said.

EQC chief executive Ian Simpson defended his organisation, saying EQC prioritised the “most pressing needs” of Cantabrians after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. 


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The investigation was inconclusive about how many houses were tested but found testing had been insufficient, especially in the programme’s first year.

EQC’s safety system had been inadequate and lacked monitoring and feedback processes. The report said poor management of asbestos risk may have extended to quality management of the repairs.

It also said EQC had not sought clarification of the potential risks before deciding this year not to retrospectively test repaired homes. No clear reason for this decision was provided, the report found.

However, experts said overall the risks associated with the type of repair work being carried out was “unlikely to cause any asbestos-related deaths”. 

Simpson said the research found even in a worst-case scenario, the risks did not reach a level where a single worker could be expected to develop mesothelioma or lung cancer. 

“Our priority was to get people into safe and warm homes as soon as possible.

“We focussed first on removing potentially lethal hazards such as unstable chimneys, providing or repairing heating before the onset of winter, and ensuring homes were weather tight.”

Contractors had been required to manage health and safety risks on site – including asbestos – from the start of the programme, he said. 

The independent research cited in the WorkSafe report was commissioned by Fletcher EQR and conducted by Australian health risk consultants Greencap NAA. WorkSafe’s experts reviewed this research as part of its investigation.


– The Press

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Asbestos risk 'very low' in quake repairs: Worksafe

No prosecutions in Chch asbestos investigation

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

An investigation into how asbestos was managed in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake has found some deficiencies but no reason to prosecute anyone.

WorkSafe New Zealand has completed its review of asbestos management in the Canterbury Home Repair Programme.

WorkSafe launched the inquiry earlier this year after allegations surfaced about possible inadequacies in the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and Fletcher EQR’s systems for identifying and managing asbestos hazards during early stages of the Canterbury rebuild.

Gordon MacDonald, WorkSafe chief executive, said the investigation did find some deficiencies in the management of asbestos during early parts of the Home Repair Programme.

However, WorkSafe said the risk of harm to workers and residents was very low and prosecution was not justified. The risk to residents was likely to have been even lower, WorkSafe said.

“Given the scale of work in Canterbury it’s inevitable there were instances where work was not up to best practice and our investigation did identify shortcomings with the management of asbestos,” Mr MacDonald said.

“It has to be remembered that in the weeks and months after the Canterbury earthquakes there was an incredible amount of work done – both demolitions and emergency repairs. People and organisations were stretched and conditions were far from ideal,” he added.

Mr MacDonald said contractors had significantly improved the way they managed asbestos. He said WorkSafe and its Canterbury Rebuild Safety Charter partners had also educated tradespeople and contractors about health risks asbestos posed.

WorkSafe said the investigation included reviews of EQC and Fletcher EQR documentation, their systems and processes. It also included interviews with management, contractors and residents.

Investigators also carried out property inspections and asbestos testing in a few houses – including surface and air testing.

WorkSafe said it also hired independent experts to review research conducted on behalf of Fletcher EQR into breathable fibre release during certain types of repair work.

APNZ

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No prosecutions in Chch asbestos investigation

James Hardie Q1 profit slides 80 pct, warns of slower US recovery

* FX changes on asbestos compensation claims hit profit

* US housing market improving slower than expected

* Company’s FY 2015 outlook below analyst forecasts (Adds profit detail, shares, housing market outlook)

SYDNEY, Aug 15 (Reuters) – Australia’s James Hardie Industries PLC , the world’s biggest fibre cement products maker, said on Friday its first-quarter earnings tumbled and warned full-year profit will fall short of analyst expectations as the U.S. housing market recovers more slowly than it previously anticipated.

The firm, which generates two-thirds of its revenue in the United States and Europe, saw its Sydney-listed shares slump after it said net profit for the first quarter of its fiscal year skidded 80 percent. The earnings drop was mainly because of unfavourable changes in exchange rates as the company pays compensation for claims of health damage from historic use of asbestos in products.

Net profit for the three months to June 30 fell to $28.9 million compared to $142.2 million a year ago. Not including asbestos adjustments, gross profit grew 11 percent to $140 million, while revenue rose 12 percent to $416.8 million.

But the company, which supplies products like cladding for the outside walls of houses, presented a more muted outlook on the recovery in the U.S. housing construction market than it gave when it reported results for the previous fiscal year three months ago.

In Sydney James Hardie shares fell as much as 7.5 percent to touch four-month lows. By 0011 GMT the stock had recovered slightly, trading 6.8 percent lower at A$13.08.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, the company said while the U.S. market was improving, with housing starts in the first quarter up 4 percent from a year earlier, the improvement was at “a more moderate level than originally assumed for the year”.

“Recent flattening in housing activity has created some uncertainty about the pace of the recovery in the short-term,” the statement said. “Although U.S. housing activity has been improving for some time, market conditions remain somewhat uncertain and some input costs remain volatile.”

James Hardie noted analysts have forecast it will post operating profit excluding asbestos compensation costs of between $226 million and $261 million for the full financial year. But the company said it expects the result to be in the range of $205 million to $235 million, compared with $197.2 million for the previous year.

(1 US dollar = 1.0733 Australian dollar) (Reporting By Byron Kaye and Jane Wardell; Editing by Chris Reese and Kenneth Maxwell)

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James Hardie Q1 profit slides 80 pct, warns of slower US recovery

State-only asbestos labelling 'unfair', say principals

State-only asbestos labelling ‘unfair’, say school principals

EducationVictoria

Date

Benjamin Preiss

EDUCATION. GENERICS OF SCHOOL AND EDUCATION, KEY WORDS, KIDS, CHILDREN, LEARNING, CLASS, TEACH, HOLIDAYS, UNIFORM, PRIMARY SCHOOL, FUTURE.  EDUCATION; PHOTO PAUL JONES; AFR/FBM; 080512. SPECIALX 00084649

Schools found to contain the substance must post signs at their entrances saying an ‘induction’ must be completed before any workis done on the school site. Photo: Paul Jones

Principals are concerned that asbestos warning signs are worrying parents and damaging the perception of state schools because their Catholic and independent counterparts are exempt from posting them.

So far 318 state schools have been audited and labelled this year.

Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh said she was concerned parents might mistakenly believe only state school buildings contained asbestos. ”It could be any schools but government schools are being told they have to put the signs up,” she said. Ms Leigh said she’d heard reports of parents avoiding some schools because they thought them unsafe.

Schools found to contain the substance must post signs at their entrances saying an ”induction” must be completed before any workis done on the school site.

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Rising asbestos liabilities hang over James Hardie profit surge

James Hardie may have doubled its profit this financial year, but potential asbestos liabilities continue to cloud its outlook as a rise in the number of victims surprises the firm.

The building products manufacturer, shrouded in controversy over earlier attempts to escape from or minimise asbestos liabilities, recorded an annual net profit of $US99.5 million for the year to March 31, more than double last year’s.

That net profit result is after $US195.8 million in adjustments for asbestos liabilities that are included in its annual accounts, up from $US117.1 million last year.

James Hardie has an obligation to put up to 35 per cent of its operating cash flow into the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund, which provides payouts to Australian victims of asbestos-related diseases.

Under the deal, each year an independent actuarial report is required to estimate the likely amount of asbestos liabilities for James Hardie, its related entities and former businesses which are covered by the compensation fund.

KPMG’s current estimate of total Australian asbestos liabilities that would need to be met by the AICF is $1.87 billion, after accounting for insurance recoveries.

That estimate is up almost $177 million since last year, due mostly to a change in assumptions about when asbestos-related diseases would peak.

KPMG says, without changes to its assumptions, the estimated liability would have been $1.57 billion – a fall from the previous year, largely due to expected claims being made and paid out.

Mesothelioma on the rise

The main reason for the rise in liability, according to the report, is a continued increase in claims by asbestos victims suffering mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer generally affecting the lungs and typically caused by asbestos exposure.

KPMG is budgeting $96 million for extra claims over the next three years and $168 million more over the period from 2017-18 to 2025-26.

James Hardie says actuaries had previously assumed a peak in mesothelioma claims to have occurred in 2010-11, however the past two years of claims have been above expectations.

In the year to March 31, a total of 608 asbestos-related claims were received, a 12 per cent rise from 542 claims the previous year, and well above expectations of 540 claims.

James Hardie says 604 claims were settled in its 2014 financial year, with an average settlement of $253,000, resulting in a total payout of $140.4 million for the year.

Mesothelioma claims jumped almost 20 per cent in the year to March 31 2014, to 370, up from 309 the year before, 259 in 2011-12 and 268 in 2010-11.

KPMG had previously expected only 300 mesothelioma claims in its forecasts for 2013-14.

The actuaries says it is too early to tell whether the higher number of claims will be sustained based on one year’s worth of increased claims.

Peak in disease may be decades off

However, the president of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, Barry Robson, says his organisation, and others representing victims, believe the peak in cases may still be decades away.

“The increase is in the second wave with people that have done home renovations, and we’re seeing younger people and women are now presenting,” he told ABC News Online.

Mr Robson says people as young as in their 40s are presenting with this rare form of cancer, and more cases are also being picked up by doctors, who are now better informed about the symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses.

“Better experts than I am are now looking at 2035 as a possible peak,” he said.

“As doctors become more and more aware of what an asbestos disease looks like in their patients, then more and more people will be registered with an asbestos-related disease.”

The worse financial news for James Hardie is that mesothelioma claims are far more expensive for the company, with the average settlement sitting at $308,000, compared to around $100,000 for asbestosis or lung cancer.

There were also seven “large” mesothelioma claims above $1 million over the past year, worth a total of $11.6 million – no other forms of asbestos-related disease carried such large payouts.

Mr Robson says the size of asbestos-disease payouts is determined by the courts or in settlement negotiations with reference to many factors, including age, occupation and the number of dependents the victim has.

“Take the case of a lawyer, who I know got over a million dollars, he had a very young daughter – I think at the time of his death she was around six years of age,” Mr Robson said.

“He contracted mesothelioma when he was working his way through uni, he was working on building sites, so while he was going to law school he was exposed and then later on he died from meso.”

Is the fund adequately funded?

The company warns that, if claims do not start reducing until after 2018-19 the estimated claims total could rise a further 22 per cent on top of this financial year’s increase.

KPMG’s high scenario puts the liability for future claims at almost $3 billion, versus the central estimate of $1.87 billion.

James Hardie’s chief financial officer Matt Marsh says the impact on the company’s bottom line will be capped, and it is fulfilling all its requirements to the asbestos compensation fund.

“We’ll make a payment in July of $US113 million and that will be in compliance with our obligation under the [agreement] to contribute up to 35 per cent of our operating cash flow,” he told analysts on an investor briefing.

“The second part of that question is will that be enough to pay for the liabilities, and that’s a question that’s better asked of the AICF [Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund].”

Unfortunately, when the ABC rang the AICF early this afternoon to ask it that question the call went to message bank and has not yet been returned.

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Rising asbestos liabilities hang over James Hardie profit surge

Asbestos Measure To Get Rare Vote

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a measure to cut down on alleged fraud in the beleaguered multi-billion-dollar asbestos bankruptcy trust system.

It’s the first time an asbestos measure has made it to the floor of a chamber of Congress in nearly two decades, according to lobbyists pushing for the bill. Past measures aimed at the trust system have fizzled.

The measure, dubbed the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2013, would amend federal bankruptcy law to require dozens of asbestos trusts to publicize information about the claims they’re paying out.

The trusts are giant pots of money that exist to compensate people who say they were injured by asbestos products made by companies that have since sought bankruptcy protection. The flood of asbestos lawsuits has led more than 40 companies into bankruptcy court.

Claimants only collect pennies on the dollar of what they’d earn if the companies were solvent, but the amount of money the trusts pay out collectively is huge. At the end of 2010, they paid about 3.3 million claims valued at $17.5 billion, according to a 2011 U.S. Government Accountability Office report. Plaintiffs’ attorneys get a cut of the payments to their clients.

Some critics allege fraud can result when people file claims against one trust blaming it exclusively for their asbestos disease, then make the same claims to other trusts as well as to solvent companies in court. Because trusts keep claims information secret, no one is usually the wiser. We wrote about the alleged fraud in the system as part of a series on asbestos litigation. The other stories are here and here.

Plaintiffs’ attorney associations and some asbestos victims oppose the measure, saying any requirements to offer more information about claims will bog down the system and delay payments to rightful victims who may only have weeks to live.

The measure’s supporters, which include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, emphasize that cutting down on alleged fraud will save money for future victims of asbestos exposure. Cancer and other disease caused by inhaling fibers from the mineral used in fireproofing can take decades to show up. Asbestos is not banned in the U.S., though its use is somewhat regulated.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R., Texas), said at a hearing earlier this year the trusts aren’t “limitless, bottomless pits of money.”

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Asbestos Measure To Get Rare Vote

Asbestos school closed until 2014

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Report downplays asbestos risk at gallery renovation

A compliance report received by the City of Greater Geraldton has revealed that the amount of airborne asbestos during work to remove the asbestos roof of the Regional Art Gallery was “significantly below” the acceptable level.

Work on the facility last month sparked some community concern about the risk of air-borne contamination in the CBD.

Environment Site Services monitored the work and concluded it was fully compliant with all codes of practice endorsed by the National Association of Testing Authorities.

Mayor Ian Carpenter welcomed the report.

“The City takes its duty of care very seriously and only employers contractors who adhere to all codes of practice, so the report is very reassuring,” he said.

The roof replacement contract was let to local business Crothers Constructions and work was expected to be completed this month.

Mr Carpenter said a new air conditioning system would be installed later in the year.

He said the major upgrade of the building would elevate the art gallery into an A-class gallery.

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Report downplays asbestos risk at gallery renovation