Media release: Asbestos-related diseases costing over $500 million a year

Date

Media release

Direct health care combined with the impact on productivity in the workplace as a result of asbestos-related diseases costs Australia over half a billion dollars a year.

A new report commissioned by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency has measured the medical and economic opportunity costs associated with asbestos-related disease.

The Economic Burden of Asbestos-related Disease, by the Centre for International Economics, looked at the direct health care costs, as well as the cost of productivity and other losses resulting from time out of the workforce due to an asbestos-related disease in one year (2015).

It estimated hospital and primary care costs to be $192 million per year, and 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, the costs arose due to premature death of a person.

ASEA Chief Executive Peter Tighe said the it was the first time the cost of asbestos-related disease had been quantified in Australia in this way.

“We know of the terrible human toll of asbestos-related disease, which takes the lives of approximately 4,000 Australians each year,” Peter Tighe said. 

“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. 

“This focus should include high profile community education and public information campaigns, and a clear plan for the permanent removal of all legacy asbestos in Australia’s built environment.

“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 also looked at compensation payments and found that compensation costs were below the estimates of the health care and productivity costs of asbestos-related disease.

Claims pursued under common law were on average higher than those through insurance schemes. The report noted many claims are settled confidentially, and there are fewer compensation claims pursued than there are instances of asbestos-related disease.

The report notes that some costs associated with asbestos-related disease are not easily measured and have accordingly not been included in the study, including mental ill health costs, and regulatory costs.

The report, The economic burden of asbestos-related disease, can be found at: https://www.asbestossafety.gov.au/research-publications/economic-burden-asbestos-related-disease

Media contact: Rebecca Nicholson – 0409 2160 53