Faces of the Industry (FAAM Conference 2018)

Author: Oliver Lea, Asbestos Analyst

Perhaps this isn’t something I should admit, but I always look forward to industry conferences. It’s not just that they are an excellent opportunity to learn and develop oneself professionally. For me, the best part is getting a chance to see the human face of an industry. I am, after all, a person, so it’s edifying to be reminded that behind every report that gets issued, every tender that’s written, every structure that goes up or comes down, are people like me.

The FAAM Conference 2018 was a particularly rich opportunity, and a cause for some pride for us as our own MD Jonathan Grant is a member of both the BOHS and FAAM boards. All of us agreed that speaking to industry experts and attending the talks gave us a renewed sense of conviction about what we do.

There were many reminders that whilst it’s easy to suppose that commercial asbestos use is a historical issue, it continues to be relevant today. True, this is not on the same scale as in the past. Yet it is widely agreed that there is no ‘safe’ level of exposure to asbestos. Therefore, it remains a serious concern.

Many of us remember those children’s spy kits that had the sunglasses with a small mirror so you could see the sinister counter-agents following you (or, more likely, your brother pulling faces at you behind your back). What it didn’t help you see was the potential danger inside the kit itself – namely the asbestos fibres in the fingerprint kit.

However, in a presentation from David de Vreede – Chairman to the Center of Expertise for Asbestos & Fibres – we learned that asbestos is still being found today in a range of products from crayons to make-up kits. Many of these products were marketed to children. Anyone who has seen children playing with makeup will not doubt the very real possibility of fibre release in these circumstances.

Yet getting product safety oversight bodies to acknowledge this risk has, at times, been an uphill struggle. It is largely down to the initiative and robust investigation of concerned experts that this issue is now being taken more seriously, though there is still work to be done.

More encouraging, however, was the sense of the sheer volume of expertise filling the sails of the asbestos management industry. Particularly inspiring was a presentation by Dr John Moore-Gillon who spoke of emerging treatments for mesothelioma, and Mavis Nye, whose own treatment for mesothelioma represents a huge positive step.

Indeed, it’s listening to people who have been affected by asbestos-related disease, either directly or indirectly, which especially inspires us to strive to do well in our work. Preventing asbestos exposure isn’t like pulling a drowning person from the sea; you’ll probably never meet the person whose life you’ve saved. But in thirty years time, when the number of asbestos-related deaths is on the wane, we’ll know that it’s because of the people behind those reports, surveys, analyses and works. People like us.



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