The mishandling of Asbestos on NBN sites was a big story at the start of the week — and rightly so — but also a political hot potato given the differing views on the NBN and NBN Co specifically. Telstra’s stepped forward to give reassurances as to its future asbestos handling plans.
In a blog post on Telstra’s Exchange blog, Telstra’s Chief Operations Officer, Brendon Riley has laid out what Telstra’s planning to do, bearing in mind that the work in question was being undertaken by sub-contractors hired by Telstra to do the work, under a general contract to Telstra as part of its agreement with NBN Co.
The full statement is as follows:
Following my blog yesterday, I wanted to update you on some of the initiatives Telstra is putting in place to strengthen the way we supervise and manage asbestos management and removal.
Telstra will take direct control of all work with asbestos containing material. This includes a new field workforce of up to 200 specialists to directly supervise all remediation work done by our contractors.
We are also putting in place mandatory Telstra-designed and run training for all contractors and subcontractors that work on the parts of our network that have asbestos containing material.
These are strong actions reflecting our absolute priority on the safety of our workers, our contractors and the community.
The initiatives include:
• Up to 200 additional inspection and supervisory jobs will be created to ensure all remediation activity is supervised by an accredited person. Advertising and internal selection for these roles has commenced.
• Telstra will reinforce its high compliance standards with all relevant field employees working with asbestos. This will include every manager reminding their staff about the safety measures that need to be adhered to.
• 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.
• Following the audit Telstra will work with Comcare and an accredited training partner to review and update the mandatory training program that all Telstra contractors will need to implement before they are approved to work on Telstra pits.
• Stronger community engagement guidelines to ensure the community is better informed about work in their areas, including longer notification periods, more intensive doorknocking and letterbox drops and improved signage at worksites alerting residents to asbestos-related works.
The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Hon Bill Shorten, has directed the Office of Asbestos Safety to coordinate a national response to the issue and we will cooperate fully with this work. Our intent is to establish and lead a high level working group, with involvement from NBN Co, Comcare and our lead contractors, to implement and monitor an asbestos management plan for maintenance or the NBN rollout.
This morning we have commenced a clean up of the public sites in Penrith after we received agreement from the residents to get this under way. We continue to talk to them to arrange a suitable time for the cleaning of their properties and hope this can occur as soon as possible.
Interestingly, later on, Riley challenges reports that Asbestos bags were abandoned near a school in Ballarat
We have also had claims that our contractors had dumped asbestos bags outside the Telstra Exchange building in Ballarat. Whilst we are still investigating, our contractors tell us that they were with the asbestos at all times and were waiting at the exchange in a designated area for secure bins to be delivered.