PEDANTRY is an accusation most in workplace safety will have leveled at them at some point by a colleague frustrated at the steps and processes that precede the job itself.
It is understandable, particularly for those who remember the days when the job was simply done and no immediate harm arrived. But, as James Hardie employees and many others have tragically discovered, these impacts are not always immediate. Many can lie in wait for years beyond the moment they could have been prevented or quickly rectified.
As Newcastle’s centre shifts west and begins to rise to unprecedented heights, there is a need to reckon with what lies beneath.
Boolaroo, BHP and more have left their mark on the Hunter. The men and women of steel have become so indelible that visitors to the city still appear surprised its heavy industry heyday is largely behind it.
But the ramifications of those days are not, or not entirely, in our rear-view mirror. The remnants of eras when employment concerns outweighed environmental concerns linger in the land, as a landmark study into domestic dust pollution has discovered.
The Macquarie University study is tempered slightly by the news that in one of the city’s largest postcodes, that legacy is likely to better for our children than it was for us. Strengthened regulation and enforcement is bearing out in the data, which indicates almost all the heavy metals and contaminants are receding into our memories.
Legislators and enforcement agencies deserve credit for acting on concerns in recent decades, developing a system that appears to be putting a cork in the bottle. But hot spots remain, particularly given the increase in particulate matter residents attribute to the coal loaders.
Part of the present situation is that our traditional places of work have evolved into sought-after suburbs, particularly those alongside the harbour. Modern uses in Carrington, its neighbour Mayfield and even Wickham bear little resemblance to their former selves. Yet that only strengthens the need for remediation, given those exposed to contaminants in the area are now spending much more time in their proximity.
Safety and cautionary measures may never be the most appealing part of any project, and have historically been the most neglected. But in an age where we can measure and prevent the vestiges of pollution like never before, it is far from a petty concern.
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