NBN Co should take asbestos responsibility: analyst

Guy Cranswick has also called on Telstra to provide greater transparency around the issue of asbestos

NBN Co should take some of the responsibility for the asbestos mishandling issue, according to IBRS analyst Guy Cranswick.

Telstra has been quick to acknowledge it is responsible for asbestos in pits and pipes which are being remediated for the National Broadband Network (NBN), with the telco stating in its asbestos management procedure that Telstra contractors will follow work practices.

However, Cranswick said NBN Co is also partially responsible.

“The awareness of the legacy situation in this area would’ve been fully apparent to the likes of the CEO and other senior executives at NBN Co and I would say exactly the same for Telstra,” he said.

“[In] another sense [with] NBN Co, it was a duty of care. It was an issue of knowledge and managerial oversight and I think that there’s probably been some responsibility [that] can be assigned to NBN Co on that side.

“Although the full task of repair, removal and management and so on of course lies with Telstra.”

Cranswick said NBN Co should be on top of its contractual obligations and dismissed the claim that NBN Co can only know if something goes wrong if it is told.

“I would’ve said that [excuse] works really well when you’re about 11 years old, but when you graduate out of high school it becomes less and less tenable,” Cranswick said.

“It’s a case of ‘you should’ve known’. It’s like when politicians are held to account for something and they say ‘well, we didn’t know’ … [They] should have known how to have dealt with that.”

However, Cranswick said Telstra shoulders most of the blame with the mishandling of asbestos.

He said Telstra should have had greater managerial oversight on how to handle asbestos instead of just “reacting” to it, but said “I think this is quite simply a human error of quite large managerial proportions”.

Cranswick has called on Telstra to provide greater transparency around the issue of asbestos, such as a website providing information about what stage Telstra is at with its asbestos cleanout.

But he added that the problems with asbestos should not mean the NBN needs to be abandoned.

"Leave asbestos undisturbed"

The Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union has called for asbestos to removed from all Telstra pits, according to a report in the Australian.

However, Geoff Johnson, research vice-president at Gartner, said the best practice is to leave asbestos undisturbed.

This is Telstra’s current policy, as per its asbestos management procedure document.

For damaged pits or where there is an “unacceptable health risk”, Telstra will consider removing or replacing asbestos pits.

Johnson, who has previously worked at Telstra as a lines engineer and cable plant manager, said the asbestos issue is not as big a problem as is being made out to be.

“Basically the practice, like the rest of the building industry, is don’t touch it unless you have to. It’s really misguided if politicians or the community think the safe thing to do is going around ripping it all up,” Johnston said.

He said that with a federal election to be held in three months, parties will be “keen” to continue to politicise it.

“I think you’re going to see Bill Shorten promote himself on this one and the politicians are going to make a party of it,” he said.

“I saw people interviewed on television last night who had lost a family member to mesothelioma and their concern was the families are going to have to sit around and worry now for 30 years about whether they have mesothelioma or not because there was asbestos somewhere.

“Now that’s just scaremongering in a community – that’s just not right. That needs to be corrected.”

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

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