WorkSafe ACT plays down asbestos risk

WorkSafe ACT said its safety commissioner and chief health officer will work together on the asbestos issue in the territory

WorkSafe ACT has downplayed the danger of the community being exposed to asbestos in the ACT as it works with Comcare and Telstra to deal with asbestos issues related to the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN).

In late May remediation work on Telstra’s pits for the NBN was shut down in the Sydney suburb of Penrith because contractors did not safely handle the removal of asbestos.

Bags filled with asbestos were also reportedly dumped in an unsafe manner by NBN workers in Victoria. The Australian Financial Review reported that the asbestos came from Telstra pits and pipes.

NBN Co should take asbestos responsibility: analyst

WorkSafe ACT said its safety commissioner and chief health officer will work together on the asbestos issue in the territory.

It will also work with Comcare, a federal government organisation that works with employees and employers for a safety, rehabilitation and compensation system, to carry out joint inspections when “it is deemed necessary”.

However, WorkSafe ACT played down the risk of the public being exposed to asbestos fibres.

“Any asbestos containing materials in Telstra pits will almost certainly be in a bonded form. The risk to the wider community of exposure to asbestos fibres because of poor removal practices is therefore considered to be very low,” it said in a statement.

“The primary risks associated with such asbestos removal will be occupational.”

WorkSafe ACT said asbestos was widely used in the area until the mid-1980s. The community will faces “decades” of dealing with asbestos issues, the agency said.

“The important control for the risks associated with this is to ensure that when asbestos containing products are encountered they are properly managed and handled,” it said.

Remediation work on Telstra's pits and pipes has not yet recommenced across Australia.

“The temporary stop work on pit remediation will stay in place for contractors (and sub-contractors) until they have completed further training on working with, removing, transporting and disposing of asbestos containing material,” a Telstra spokesman told Computerworld Australia.

Some 10 to 20 per cent of Telstra’s pits reportedly containing asbestos, but the telco does not have an exact figure.

It has committed to putting on an extra 200 specialists to inspect and supervise asbestos remediation work of its pits and pipes.

Telstra said the specialists would work with the Office of Asbestos Safety, Comcare, State and Territory work health and safety regulators and local governments to implement a site inspection program.

An asbestos management taskforce has also been established to monitor the prevention of exposure, training and supervision of contractors working on the NBN.

Telstra's spokesman said the telco will provide a plan to the taskforce for removing asbestos its pits that are damaged or require modification for the NBN, and “business-driven requirements” for removing or modifying pits. This could include changes for local infrastructure.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags National Broadband Network (NBN)asbestos

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