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The family of a former worker at the Proserpine Sugar Mill in central Queensland who died of an incurable asbestos related disease in 2009 has won an historic appeal for workers compensation.
Mr Andrew Fraser worked as a labourer on a demolition team at the sugar mill for about six months in 1982. He died in August 2009 aged 53, just six months after being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma.
In 2010 the independent statutory authority, Q-COMP, rejected a claim from Mr. Fraser’s sister for compensation.
This decision was overturned last week by the Queensland Industrial Magistrates Court when it found Mr Fraser’s exposure to asbestos at the sugar mill was directly related to his death, despite the fact he may have been exposed to asbestos while working in other jobs.
Mr Fraser’s family is now entitled to receive compensation from WorkCover Queensland.
Mr Carl Hughes, asbestos injuries expert with Slater and Gordon in Brisbane, said the decision has significant implications for other mesothelioma and asbestos disease sufferers.
“Despite the court finding Mr Fraser had worked in other places where he may have also been exposed to asbestos, it did not diminish the responsibility of all employers to provide safe working environment,” Mr Hughes said.
“This ruling should make WorkCover Queensland appreciate that even relatively short periods of exposure to asbestos in the workplace, provided those periods are within an acceptable latency period, can cause mesothelioma.
“The ruling should make it harder for businesses to hide from their responsibilities to workers who contract these deadly diseases while on the job.
“It is also a timely health warning for workers in Queensland’s sugar industry who may have been exposed to asbestos, even for a short time, as late as the mid 1980’s.”
Mr Fraser’s sister, Alison Duff, who lives in Geelong in Victoria, said her brother would be extremely pleased with the result.
“Andy was always concerned about his fellow workers and he would be pleased this ruling sends a clear message to big business that they can’t ride roughshod over the people they employ.”
Mr Fraser was exposed to asbestos dust as he hammered and chiseled asbestos lagging to remove it from pipes at the Proserpine Sugar Mill. This created thick clouds of asbestos dust.
Fellow workers at the Proserpine Mill described the dust in the air as like “coconut on a lamington”. At the end of each shift workers were regularly covered in asbestos dust. No protective clothing or masks were provided to workers