Following recent calls for a total asbestos eradication plan for Australia, a new report has revealed that asbestos-related diseases are estimated to be costing the country more than $500 million a year in direct health costs and lost productivity.
The report was commissioned by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and sought to measure both medical and economic opportunity costs tied to asbestos-related disease. The results found:
- Hospital and primary care costs to be $192 million per year
- Indirect costs arising from time out of the workforce to be $321 million per year
Of the health care costs, $53.7 million are hospital costs, $48.4 million for specialists and other health practitioners, $21.5 million for GP costs, and $59 million for pharmaceutical costs.
Of the estimated $321 million cost to productivity and the economy through workforce impacts, the report finds that 85 per cent of cases were caused by occupational exposure to asbestos. In most cases, these costs arose due to premature death of a person.
ASEA Chief Executive Peter Tighe explained that it was the first time the cost of asbestos-related disease had been quantified in Australia.
“We know of the terrible human toll of asbestos-related disease, which takes the lives of approximately 4,000 Australians each year. And we now know that it costs the Australian community at least half a billion dollars a year.”
“Given the high cost of these avoidable diseases, it is very clear that our focus should be on the prevention of exposure to asbestos in Australia.”
Mr Tighe explained that the response to the report should focus on wide-ranging community education and public information, as well as a concise plan with relevant agencies to work towards permanent removal of all legacy asbestos in existing Australian buildings.
“There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, and Australian workers and DIY home renovators will remain at risk until we take a proactive approach to eradication and remove asbestos from our community once and for all.”
The report notes that some costs associated with asbestos-related disease are not easily measured and as such, have not been included in the study, including mental health costs.