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Construction sector unaware of asbestos risks

Construction sector unaware of asbestos risks

While the Ministry of Labour held a workshop last Friday to highlight the presence of asbestos in products, especially building materials, many construction companies and workers are unaware of the toxic substance and its potential health hazards.

Sok Kin, active president of the Building and Wood Worker Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, who attended the workshop last week, said that up to 80 per cent of the Kingdom’s construction workers could be exposed to asbestos given the range of materials being imported into the country containing the toxic substance.

“We don’t have enough experience to work on that, because it seems to be a new thing in Cambodia, I just learn about it two months ago” he said.

“We need to set up policy and regulate to control the import of products.”

He added that his union has been working in collaboration with the Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad (APHEDA), an organisation working for worker health, safety and rights, on educating construction workers and getting them to wear masks in the workplace.

The Ministry of Labour and APHEDA held a workshop last Friday to discuss the use of asbestos-containing products in Cambodia and the potential health hazards it poses.

According to the latest available data from Cambodia’s import inspection authority, CAMCONTROL, the import of construction materials – ranging from roofing sheets to gypsum boards – containing asbestos has steadily increased from 14,257 tonnes in 2005 to 63,124 tonnes in 2012.

“We know that asbestos affected to the health, it can cause to the lung cancer” he said.

“The Ministry of Environment will take action on this case and should have more of an understanding about it,” Lim Thearith, an official from CAMCONTROL said yesterday.

Despite the warnings, it is not just workers who are unaware of asbestos-containing materials.

Many firms working in the construction industry told the Post that they too were unaware of the potentially lethal substance.

Trou Chanthan, director of architecture and design firm Komnit Design, said he was unaware of the use of asbestos in construction materials, but that there was an increase in the industry of the use of roof tiles and cement panels as compared to corrugated roof sheeting, which can sometimes contain asbestos.

“I did not know about asbestos. Most of my villa designs use roof tile and smart board” he said.

Song Bun Hak, owner of Song Bun Hak gypsum shop, who also installs the panels, said that gypsum boards, which have been known to have asbestos, are increasingly being used for interior design in houses, offices and
factories.

Having worked with the product for 20 years, Hak said he was unaware of the health risks associated with asbestos, but has had no health worries so far.

“If government banned this product, it will impact clients’ demand for the product, as well as my family’s income too” he said.

According to Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng, there was no available data on the scope of asbestos use and how many people it has affected in Cambodia.

But, UN trade statistics show that the import of asbestos-containing products to Cambodia had more than tripled in recent years, from $1.3 million in 2009 to just over $4 million in 2013.

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