James Haride operated two factories in South Australia. The first started production in 1941 in Largs Bay. It produced building products such as asbestolite, Hardiflex and other asbestos cement sheets. In 1962 James Hardie opened a second factory in South Australian factory at Elizabeth. The second factory manufactured asbestos pipes and fittings.
Terry Miller is typical of the hundreds of workers employed at James Hardies’ Elizabeth West factory. Terry commenced work on 1 November 1966 as a table hand, labourer in the tool room and lathe operator. He left on 2 October 1968 but returned to work at the factory on 28 August 1969 and remained working there until 27 March 1987.
All up he worked for James Hardie for 20 years. The Elizabeth West factory made pipes, mainly for PMG and E&WS. The factory operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. On each shift over 20 people were employed.
Over the years Terry worked nearly every job in the factory, becoming a leading hand in the early 1970s, sub foreman in 1974 and a shift foreman in 1977.
Terry described the conditions in the factory as awful, “there was dust everywhere and you could not escape it”. The dust was on the floor, on the ledges and on all the horizontal surfaces. At the end of each day Terry was covered in dust; it stuck to his clothes, skin and hair. When he blew his nose asbestos fibres came out. If he did not wash his hair each day it became stiff and itchy as a result of the dust.
Terry describes the worst job as changing the bags in the bag room. The bag room was located on top of the dust collection unit, which sucked up the dust from the machines. The room contained 30 long tube-like bags, tied at the top and hung from the ceiling. The bottom of the bags were fitted on 8″ tubes from the dust extraction unit below. As part of his job each week, Terry went into the room and shook the bags to free them of dust. One day after working in the bag room Terry and others went to the pub for lunch. As they crossed the road they looked back to see a thick trail of dust behind them.
The factory was closed in March 1987. Terry was one of the last to leave. He was exposed to asbestos every day until the factory closed. As a result Terry developed severe asbestosis. He successfully sued James Hardie and received a confidential settlement.