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A meeting launching a working group on National Asbetos profiles was conducted yesterday in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied
A meeting launching a working group on National Asbetos profiles was conducted yesterday in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied

Ministry to examine asbestos

The Ministry of Labour yesterday announced the formation of a new working group tasked with gathering data on the precise prevalence of asbestos and its adverse effects in the Kingdom.

Minister Ith Sam Heng yesterday said the group will compile data in order to prepare a national action plan and an effective prevention program on the risks of asbestos.

Dr Leng Tong, director of the ministry’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health, said the group will gather information on asbestos products imported to the Kingdom and how many workers fall ill due to asbestos.

It will also receive training from other countries, such as Australia, which has banned the use of asbestos.

Asbestos causes asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer, with construction workers facing higher risks. There are an estimated 200,000 construction workers in Cambodia, but how many have been exposed to asbestos is not yet known.

“In the future, we’ll have to [ban] it for the safety of the workers,” Tong said. The ministry in 2015 was already working on a study that it had planned to take to the government to ask for an asbestos ban. However, Tong said the study was small and there were limited resources.

Sam Heng yesterday said the ILO, WHO and civil society would also be involved.

UN data show that Cambodia imported some 29 tonnes of “fabricated asbestos fibres” and “mixtures with a basis of asbestos” in 2015, while much more enters as part of pre-fabricated construction materials.

Sok Kin, leader of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, said his union was one of the three in the working group. He said construction workers handling asbestos often don’t even have access to masks or gloves.

“I hope the government will ban the import and will stop using asbestos, like other countries,” he said.

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