This January, 44-year-old factory worker Sriyono became the first person in Indonesia to receive compensation for dangerous exposure to asbestos.
For many years Sriyono produced gland packing, which uses asbestos to seal systems such as pumps and shafts. Nobody ever warned him of the risks of working with asbestos, nor did his management enforce or encourage the use of personal protective equipment. The years of exposure eventually led to asbestosis, an incurable scarring of the lungs with often leads to cancer.
“There was a feeling of shock,” Sriyono told journalists, “There was no information telling us that asbestos could cause diseases like cancer when I got into the industry.”
Sriyono was awarded a total 57 million rupiah ($4,200 USD) by the government. A local NGO is working to get similar compensation for 15 other workers.
Indonesia has put some effort into minimising the impact of asbestos with exposure limits and work safety regulations, but enforcement is haphazard and medical expertise in detecting asbestos-related disease remains low. The government is not considering imposing a ban on the substance, and is instead focused on educating the public of the serious health risks associated with asbestos.
Unfortunately, on an archipelago with thousands of isolated islands, spreading the word about asbestos can be difficult. “We’ve already started awareness-raising programs, but of course Indonesia is very big and we have to do it gradually,” said Kartini Rustandi, director of occupational health and sports at the ministry of health.