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Union threatens James Hardie

Australia's union body, the ACTU, has threatened legal action against James Hardie, the company caught trying to avoid its legally imposed compensation requirements for asbestos cancer. James Hardie was caught distributing letters in the building industry that misrepresented its culpability.

http://www.labor.net.au/news/1093319500_17748.html

Way to go, ACTU.

Catch the liars
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

That is probably the least relevant post I've ever seen on this board.

Aussie Bloke
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I hope that post by "Aussie Bloke" doesn't mean Aussie Chick has had the op ;-)

Nemesis
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Then what?


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

> That is probably the least relevant post I've ever seen on this board.

I should have explained - it's a follow-up to the earlier thread about why people are negative towards corporations.

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=177224&ixReplies=52

I gave the example of James Hardie there, and thought this latest development was quite interesting. Also, from to time there's discussion here about unions. I for one think it's good to see a union body using legal muscle to reign in the type of appalling behaviour this company has engaged in, and is now trying to PR its way out of.

Catch the liars
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

What's so appalling about the behaviour?

If all the dangers of blue asbestos were clearly known a long time ago, then what the hell was the Australian government doing letting companies manufacture it?

As for the banning of all asbestos products, that is simply government hysteria.

It's simply a question of the Unions jumping on a bandwagon because the target is visible and vulnerable. If the company goes broke because building suppliers buy from the competition, then there won't be any money at all for asbestos compensation cases.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The government DIDN'T know. James Hardie DID. And kept selling it. Practically all Australians now face the possibility of developing mesothelioma at some time over the next 30 years, since Hardie asbestos products were used all over the place. Children used to play with old sheets. Even now, renovations of old buildings expose people to this danger.

Catch the liars
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Stephen,

<quote>
It's simply a question of the Unions jumping on a bandwagon because the target is visible and vulnerable.
</quote>

With all due respect, I don't think you are aware of the details of the case at hand.

If you read up, you would find that James Hardie (or at least their legal counsel) knew the extent of the risk, and provided funding that it knew it would be inadequate (but it neglected to publicise that bit of information at the time).

Read http://smh.com.au/articles/2004/08/20/1092972745982.html - registration required - in particular about half way down where it discusses the 'draft' paper.

Anon
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The moral of the story is that the trial lawyers will find someway to separate people from their money.

If you build a product that is ever known to be defective, you will be sued.

If you don't build a product that might have saved lives, even if was defective, you will be sued for not providing adequate safety measures in the first place.

The trend is simple: If you build, you will be sued. Eventually.

Thank you, trial lawyers.

IANAL
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

This is one case where trial lawyers are on the side of right. Do you know how you die if you contract mesothelioma? Your lungs slowly fill with cancerous growths so that you can't take in enough oxygen. You suffocate to death over a long time - perhaps six months. It is quite horrible.

No punishment would be too harsh for the Hardie executives who knowingly exposed Australians to this.

Catch the liars
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Rather like dying of lung cancer.

Of course the Australian, UK and US governments immediately banned tobacco when they realized it was the cause. After all, they wouldn't want to make money out of cancer-causing tobacco; only nasty corporations do things like that.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

You got shares in James Hardie, Mr Jones?


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

"You got shares in James Hardie, Mr Jones?"

While I don't agree with Stephen's view on this subject, he does have a point, and one doesn't need to be a stockholder to see it.

Tobacco is a cause of death, period. Not only to those that smoke, but also to those unfortunate enough to work in a smoke-lenient environment. No govt does anything about it, because tobacco is a great revenue source.

The point where I disagree with Stephen is that he belives (IMHO) that govts should be held to a higher standard of responsibility than companies, while I think that - assuming both the same amount of information - both are equally guilty.

Paulo Caetano
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

"assuming both the same amount of information"

should be

"assuming both have the same amount of information"

Paulo Caetano
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The point is that a company should have the same judicial responsibility an individual does.

If the government does not forbid something, you as an individual can continue doing it. Anything else would be considered judicial insecurity and an outrage.

Now a company does have a duty of care towards its employees, and I suspect James Hardie fell well short in this respect. Other companies are worse however; the meat-packing industry in the States comes to mind for a start. Interestingly enough the safety record improves when US meat packers have to pack meat for the EU, because the EU has higher quality control, which means that they have to work slower, and this does suggest that enforceable government regulations are the way to go.

The other point that the James Hardie case raises is that if the company ceased trading because it can't raise any capital as a result of an open liability for past asbestos cases, then there would be no money at all for compensation cases.

Incidentally, I never even heard of James Hardie until the OP raised their name. It was his too broad comment that "they continued to sell asbestos sheeting well after it was known to be dangerous" that made me enter the thread, since I had just done considerable research into the dangers of asbestos roofing and ceiling sheets and tiles before deciding to use them for my house.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

You're kidding? You consciously chose to use asbestos material?


Thursday, August 26, 2004

http://www.crikey.com.au/business/2004/08/23-0003.html

The mea culpas and wrong information line are no longer enough to defend the indefensible. Hellicar's move into the public arena has been to try and soften the impression that it had been dragged kicking and screaming to the present situation by the revelations in the Commission, the growing public pressure on it and the resulting rapid collapse in its reputation.

And the Business Sunday interview saw a rotten piece of blame shifting by Hellicar that showed this was a company still in denial.

Catch the liars
Thursday, August 26, 2004

-----"You're kidding? You consciously chose to use asbestos material? "-----

Yep! There is little risk in asbestos roofing sheets. To quote from the Queenlsand government
"Medical experts maintain that intact fibro in
roofing and walls poses no health risks to
occupants."

Here is a more detailed link:
http://www.asbestos-institute.ca/presskit/press_3.html

And the alternatives are less reliable and no safer. Take a look at this link http://www.asbestos-institute.ca/dansk.html

The real problem with asbestos was the asbestos used as insulation and fire retardants. It crumbled easily and in an enclosed space could be dangerous. The asbestos in roofing sheets is of a different kind and doesn't do that. It got banned in many countries as a result of hysteria.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, August 26, 2004

A few thousand dead Australians and few thousand more with mesothelioma are just apparitions, are they? We even had a Governor of NSW, a former Navy man, die from this horrible disease, contracted from the asbestos cladding around hit pipes in warships.

It is true that, generally, asbestos housing material is safe so long as it's not disturbed. However if children play with sheets in the backyard, as they do, and crumble them, they are exposed to the prospect of contracting these diseases.

If builders and neighhours, including passers-by, are not protected while building or demolishing these houses, they too are exposed. I am not sure about your quote from Queensland. It might be old. Nowadays it's a legal requirement that demolition, removal or maintenance of asbestos material be undertaken by licenced specialists with full protective gear.

Catch the liars
Thursday, August 26, 2004

Your Queensland quote is consistent with my explanation. Stephen, why are you so interested in defending asbestos and James Hardie. There is no dispute here in Australia, after lengthy examination by legal and medical experts.

Catch the liars
Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Queensland quote appears up-to-date. The regulations for dismantling asbestos roofing are that you can do it yourself, but if you hire anybody to do it then there are loads of regulations you have to follow.

I don't know how many times I have to repeat this but there are two different kinds of asbestos. Chrysolite when  used in roofing sheets, is not a cause of the diseases you mention. Your comment about it "crumbling" when children play with abandoned roofing sheets is a joke; have you ever seen an asbestos cement roofing sheet. It's made to last a minimum of sixty years exposed to the elements and the whole point of using chrysolite is that it binds the fibres together.

Most asbestos related diseases are the result of lifetime exposure to levels above the limit. Poeple affected have been those who worked in the asbestos industry (there was one asbestos mine in Australia where over a third of the workforce died over time) or those who worked in enclosed spaces where asbestos was used for fireproofing and insulation. They would find themselves covered with white dust because this kind of asbestos for this usage does crumble.

Of course little children playing with discarded asbestos roofing does rate high on the hysteria-meter of most people. Anything to do with little children can cause parents to make hasty decisions that actually cause much more harm than the hypothetical danger they are worried about. To give you an idea of the real danger there is an upmarket housing estate in Oregan where houses valued ten years ago at $200,000 to $400,000 cannot be sold at any price. The reason is that, despite $900,000 being spent on clean-up by the developer, the site, an ex-Army base, contains vast amounts of discarded asbestos and is considered one of the worst environmental disasters in the country; yet the actual amount of asbestos in the air is no higher than anywhere else in the country. At the asbestos mining I referred to previously the Australian government is trying to force the 15-or-so remaining inhabitants to leave. They are refusing on the grounds that the asbestos in the air is actually lower there than in many other parts of Australia.

Even where James Haride clearly has been dishonest, I have some sympathy. Because if it had done what the OP and many others suggested it is quite possible that there would be no capital for the shareholders, and no money at all for compensation for the victims. When it looked at the "draft" compensation figures for 2000 it found that the company simply did not have the capital to pay the compensation from its present performance. It is only because of the breathing space that its "creative accounting" afforded that it was able to greatly expand its revenue, and how have the money to be able to meet the compensation claims.

Incidentally the UK government informed the New Zealand, and presumably the Australian government, of the dangers of asbesto just after Worrld War One. Health and Safety inspectors were warning of the dangers in the asbestos mines in the 1950's. It seems to me that the lesson is that Health and Safety inspectors should be granted a lot more teeth, and more importantly should be free of political pressure, if we are to take these kinds of abuses seriously. Raging on about corporate irresponsibility after the fact is the easy way out.

James Hardie's actions do not appear to me to be particularly laudable. I can however think of many more serious inexcusable cases of corporate malfeasance, and would suggest that you would have done better to pick those out, though the fact that it is normally the small company and individual that has the worst track record does not gel with the pre-conceptions of knee-jerk anti-corporatists.

Stephen Jones
Friday, August 27, 2004

"the fact that it is normally the small company and individual that has the worst track record does not gel with the pre-conceptions of knee-jerk anti-corporatists."

The reason why most people tend to keep look closer into corporations activities is because of the power/reach they have. And also because they're used to see these corporations use said power with the same degree of (lack of) responsibility as small companies/individuals.

IOW, if you set loose an elephant and a mouse in a crystal store, which do you think will cause more damage?

Paulo Caetano
Friday, August 27, 2004

The large corporation's damage is more visible.

And, more importantly, it requires a lot less effort to pin all the blame on it.

Stephen Jones
Friday, August 27, 2004

Stephen, there are numerous cases here in Australia where a householder, sometimes even a wife who had no involvement with renovation or building, acquired this disease from a single exposure. It doesn't require prolonged exposure at all.

Secondly, the actions of James Hardie were indeed deceitful. Having been required to pay compensation, they then moved offshore and set about deceiving the government. This is detailed in memos from their lawyers.

I don't want to keep going on about this. Suffice to say they have been caught.

Catch the liars
Saturday, August 28, 2004

http://www.smarta.com.au/asbestos/risk.html

Anyone whose workplace or home has asbestos in it is at risk. The family of anyone who gets asbestos dust on his or her clothes is at risk. Owners and renovators of fibro homes built before 1982 are at risk of developing an asbestos related disease. So can wives who shook out asbestos workers' overalls before washing them. So can children who hugged someone with asbestos dust on their clothes.

Caught the liars
Saturday, August 28, 2004

For the record

http://www.crikey.com.au/business/2004/06/11-0006.html

The story was a report of yesterday's evidence from James Hardie's key outside legal adviser who thought in 2002 that the company may have misled the NSW Supreme Court in 2001 when it gave assurances that all asbestos victims would continue to be compensated properly after the change of domicile that saw the company move to the Netherlands.

Allens Arthur Robinson partner David Robb told the Special Commission, headed by David Jackson QC, that a letter raising his concerns went 'in draft' to the company in late 2002.

Robb said he was on holiday when a colleague from Allens sent the letter. He told the Commissioner that he doesn't recall re-visiting the issue when he returned from holidays

Mr Robb said the existence of an option agreement signed by the trust in February 2001 was not disclosed to the NSW Supreme Court which examined the shift of domicile proposal.

The Financial review reported that Mr Robb agreed with Mr Slattery that Justice Santow in the NSW Supreme Court was given 'no indication' of the future cancellation of partly paid shares that gave the Australian shell of James Hardie, the right to call on up to $1.9 billion from the Dutch company.

The agreement was put in place to reassure the court, and others, including CSR, the other company with a major liability from asbestos. But it was cancelled in March 2003, with no disclosure made to the court, the trust, CSR, or the ASX.

Caught the liars
Saturday, August 28, 2004

---" Anyone whose workplace or home has asbestos in it is at risk. The family of anyone who gets asbestos dust on his or her clothes is at risk. Owners and renovators of fibro homes built before 1982 are at risk of developing an asbestos related disease. So can wives who shook out asbestos workers' overalls before washing them. So can children who hugged someone with asbestos dust on their clothes. "----

This is a pretty stupid comment. You could say the same about tobacco smoke and myriad other things. Sure there is a risk from smoking one cigarette, or inhaling second-hand smoke from somebody else's cigarette in an airport but the risk is vanishingly small. In fact, the site itself admits that the amount of exposure, plus whether you smoke or not as far as lung cancer goes, is the main problem.

I still maintain that there is little evidence of chrysolite used in roofing sheets causing any asbestos related diseases. I have not seen any evidence of it and the fact that it is still the only kind of asbestos allowed to be used in many countries (including Canada and of course up to last year even Australia) suggests that the evidence is not overwhelming.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, August 28, 2004

It wasn't my statement. It was from the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia. Maybe you know more than them, Stephen. They're just doctors and stuff.

Caught the liars
Sunday, August 29, 2004

Google on asbestos and disease. The evidence is all over the place. Maybe you should revise your housing plans.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/medical_notes/a-b/161660.stm

Caught the liars
Sunday, August 29, 2004

Do you ever bother to read your own links?

The UK still hasn't banned chrysolite, and is only going to do so where an alternative is available.

I was quite aware who was responsible to read the other site. I actually read most of it, unlike you who appears only to have read one page.

And I have been googling. here are a few of the comments:

"The hazards posed by asbestos vary considerably depending upon its type, and this is not the place to describe those hazards in detail. The most significant risk factor is generally the form in which the asbestos is present, since the dangers to health from asbestos arise when the very small fibres into which it readily breaks up are breathed in.

When the asbestos is fully encapsulated, therefore, or when it is retained in a solid matrix as in asbestos cement, there is comparatively low risk,"
http://ptcl.chem.ox.ac.uk/MSDS/AS/asbestos.html

"However, the long-term residents of Thetford Mines in Quebec Province,
Canada, who have never engaged in mining and milling of chrysolite have not shown an
excess mortality of respiratory disease or impairment (Koike 1992)."
http://www.iied.org/mmsd/mmsd_pdfs/worker_community_health_impacts_literature_review.pdf

"The risk associated with use of saccharin is so minuscule that I would consider it to be a phantom risk. Perhaps some of you also support that characterization. I also believe that use chrysotile asbestos comes with an acceptable risk; If this material is used properly it will be associated with vanishingly small, undetectable risk. Should we use chrysotile asbestos? That is your decision."
This quotation comes from
Professor Arthur Langer
Director-Environmental Sciences Laboratory
Brooklyn College of the City University of New York
He is reporting on a scientific workshop held in 1997. The title was:
  "The health effects of chrysotile asbestos: contribution of science to risk management decisions "
http://www.chrysotile.com/en/hltsfty/langer.htm

"There's negligible risk in living in these homes. Installed, undisturbed asbestos-containing products are safe because the asbestos fibres are bound together in a solid matrix. ...... Prolonged exposure, where the building work goes on for months or years, carries the greatest risk. For home renovators, a brief one-off exposure is very low risk."
This is an Australian source and he is talking about fibro, which is a mix of blue, brown and white asbestos which has been identified as a clear cause of asbestos related diseases. Yet he considers even that to present little danger .... obviously the dangers for chrysotile on its own are going to be much less.
http://www.abc.net.au/health/regions/library/asbestos_ff.htm

"Today, only one type of asbestos is used: chrysotile. In addition, the industry now only markets dense and non-friable materials in which the chrysotile fibre is encapsulated in a matrix of either cement or resin. These modern products include chrysotile-cement building materials, friction materials, gaskets and certain plastics."
http://www.healthdangers.com/toxic-substances/asbestos/

Stephen Jones
Sunday, August 29, 2004

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