#607: Further reporting on Toowong ABC studios closure
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The Herald Sun
ABC may face cancer lawsuits
By Christine Flatley and Rosemary Desmond
December 21, 2006 06:08pm
Article from: AAP
THE ABC is facing possible legal action from women who have contracted breast cancer while working at the broadcaster’s Brisbane studios.
An independent study has found that women who worked at the Toowong studios in the city’s inner-west reported breast cancer at a rate of up to 11 times higher than the general working community.
The shock findings forced ABC managing director Mark Scott to order the immediate closure of the studios, even though the cause of the unusually high incidence of cancer remains a mystery.
“Given the uncertainty of not knowing what has caused it, the only alternative was to move quickly to relocate the site,” Mr Scott said today.
He rejected suggestions staff should have been moved sooner, saying it would not have been appropriate to act before the study was completed.
The 350 staff employed at ABC in Brisbane will temporarily use the studios of the Seven Network and Network Ten until suitable accommodation can be found.
In the meantime, the ABC will commission a study of the incidence of breast cancer among staff at other sites around Australia in an effort to find out the cause of the cancer cluster at Toowong.
ABC journalist Ian Eckersley said he had been notified that women were already starting to pursue avenues for compensation.
“I know the women are talking about it,” Mr Eckersley said.
“I know there’s one staff member, or ex-staff member, who’s been investigating that pretty thoroughly and it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a class action out of this.”
Mr Eckersley was one of three staff members who worked alongside the panel of scientists commissioned by the ABC in July to investigate the high incidence of cancer.
Twelve women who worked at the Toowong office have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 11 years.
Eight of the women worked in the newsroom and most had been there for more than five years.
The study confirmed the higher than usual levels of incidence, and concluded that long-term employees were most at risk.
However there is still no conclusive evidence about what has caused the cancer cluster, and Dr Bruce Armstrong, who headed the study, said it was unlikely they would ever know.
“I think the history of investigations of clusters like this tells us that (the likelihood) is pretty low … most of the time an explanation is not found,” Dr Armstrong said.
“This is an unusual cluster and on that basis it ought to be obvious what the cause is, but it’s not obvious what the cause is.”
Mr Scott said there should only be minor disruptions to Queensland news bulletins.
The swift action to abandon the site has been welcomed by staff members.
However, Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) state secretary David Waters said the Queensland management’s response to staff concerns was unacceptable.
“ABC Queensland’s management’s handling of this matter … could be characterised as at times tokenistic, at times dismissive, but overwhelmingly, inadequate,” he said.
Staff now fear there may be more incidents of breast cancer as yet undiscovered.
“There could be a lag factor for women working here … we hope to God that’s not the case,” Mr Eckersley said.
“We hope we’ve had the last case of breast cancer amongst ABC staff but there’s no certainty of that.”
ABC staff will be given free mammograms and counselling during the relocation process.
Meanwhile, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie says the state Government will help the ABC find a new Brisbane site.
Breast cancer cluster closes ABC studio
* December 21, 2006
THE ABC news team will abandon its Brisbane studios today following an investigation that blamed the workplace for the high incidence of breast cancer among female workers.
The independent review could not pinpoint the cause of the cancer, but concluded it was related to the office environment, ABC radio reported. Other staff will be moved out in coming days.
Experts have spent the past five months conducting an investigation after it was revealed 12 women who worked at the Toowong office in Brisbane’s inner-west had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 11 years. Eight of the women worked in the newsroom and most had been there for more than five years.
ABC managing director Mark Scott met staff today to discuss the findings of the investigation and tell them of the planned relocation.
Earlier this year Mr Scott said he would not relocate staff unless the investigation found evidence of a cancer cluster.
The study showed women who worked at the office reported breast cancer at a rate 11 times higher than the general working community, ABC radio reported today.
Almost 100 ABC staff members walked off the job in July to demand a relocation.
All female staff working at the Toowong office were immediately offered free mammograms, and a free counselling service was made available during the investigation.
Mr Scott has today extended the offer to women at other ABC sites around Australia, ABC radio reported.
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