RAISING NATIONAL AWARENESS: Geoff and Karen's passion in retirement has been recognised with a major safety award.
RAISING NATIONAL AWARENESS: Geoff and Karen's passion in retirement has been recognised with a major safety award. Contributed

Asbestos award highlights work of exceptional couple

RETIREES and asbestos awareness campaigners Geoff and Karen Wicks have been honoured for their exceptional volunteer work with the national campaign.

Over the last five years the couple have travelled more than 50,000km to exhibit the campaign caravan Betty at more than 200 health and community events, and distribute more than 130,000 brochures, engage with more than 150 councils, 7000 renovation students, 4000 conference delegates and conducted more than 180 media events.

Betty is a purpose-built mobile model house, the size of a caravan, which acts as practical and engaging tool to increase the community's awareness of the dangers of asbestos.  

It demonstrates the locations where asbestos can be found in and around homes, educating homeowners, renovators and tradies about how to identify, manage and dispose of asbestos safely.

Geoff and Karen have travelled through NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Northern Territory and are now in Tasmania at the start of a 28 community visit.

Called to help by friends

"Initially we were both looking for volunteer work when we retired and friends of ours were running the Asbestos Awareness campaign," Karen said.

"Geoff with his experience in towing and engineering, and with my experience in catering and administration, our friends thought we might be a good combination to tow Betty around the countryside."

Geoff had already taken a redundancy package from his job as a ground engineer at Qantas and Karen soon retired from catering. They started with one week in 2012 volunteering during November's Asbestos Awareness week, but it has "mushroomed" since then Karen, 62, said.

"We have met a lot of people on our travels, and the more we have travelled and the more people we have met, the more involved we have become in the campaign. It's just made us want to keep going with it because it is such a worthy cause," the keen traveller Karen said.

Using their work skills

The couple tow the caravan, give talks and demonstrations at the places they visit, and maintain the caravan on and off the road.

"Quite often we talk to TAFE students and tradies, whoever comes along," Geoff, 63, said.

Outside of the Asbestos Awareness Week, Geoff and Karen also take Betty to council events, home shows, the Easter shows and more.

Worthy award recipients

In presenting the award, the executive director of SafeWork NSW and founding chair of the Asbestos Education Committee, Peter Dunphy, said, "with asbestos remaining in one in every three Australian homes built or renovated prior to 1987, the extraordinary commitment of Geoff and Karen Wicks in raising awareness of the dangers of asbestos throughout the hundreds of communities they visit with Betty, deserves this special recognition.

"Education is critical to prevention, and over the past five years Geoff and Karen's unique voluntary commitment has enabled us to greatly increase awareness about the dangers of asbestos from cities to remote regions among homeowners, renovators and tradies across hundreds of communities.

"While the SafeWork NSW Awards are designed to recognise the concerted efforts and commitments of business and individuals in improving safety and injury management throughout NSW, the efforts of this dedicated couple to inform communities about asbestos deserves special recognition," he said.

For information on asbestos awareness, go to www.asbestosawareness.com.au   


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