Holsworthy Asbestos Contamination
March 9, 2006
Since the Union’s notice last Thursday regarding the asbestos contamination at Holsworthy, the Department has revealed a number of very disturbing facts. Yesterday morning the Department notified the Union that it had known that the site was contaminated since September 2005.Further, in October 2005 the Department was provided with a report that identified that other parts of one of the rubble stockpiles was contaminated.
This second report identified that “a potential health risk remains while the stockpile is present at the site.” It recommended that the material be removed and until its removal that appropriate PPE gear be used when working in or around the affected materials. It also recommended that WorkCover be informed of the asbestos contamination.
For whatever reason, the Department ignored these vitally important recommendations. The Department and WorkCover are investigating what happened. One thing is clear: the Department as the employer has failed to ensure that the systems of work and the working environment of its employees were safe and without risks to health
The facts are these: at least 480 members have been exposed to asbestos at Holsworthy. This does not include those who only attended Operational Explorer in May 2004. Notwithstanding the assertions of the Department in the media, any exposure to asbestos constitutes a health risk to workers. This has been confirmed by asbestos victims, Unions NSW and representatives of the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
The potential impact of the exposure goes beyond those members who were engaged in activities on the site. There is a possibility that members’ families could have been exposed through the contamination of PPE and the transfer of minute asbestos fibres in work and private vehicles. Furthermore, members who have not been to Holsworthy could have been exposed in a similar way. The Union sought and received a commitment from the Department that all firefighters (not only those who have attended the site) and their families would have access to ongoing screening.
Also, in conjunction with Unions NSW and other emergency services unions, an eight-point plan has been developed to deal with the crisis:
1. WorkCover conduct an immediate investigation with the possibility of launching a prosecution for serious breaches of the OHS Act 2000 and OHS Regulation 2001.
2. A briefing be organised for all workers and their families who may have been exposed as a result of visiting the site. The following representatives be invited to attend the briefing:
Unions NSW nominated Respiratory Physician, Dr Stephen Clark on the Dust Diseases Board medical Panel.
Representatives from the Dust Diseases Board ;
A representative from WorkCover NSW ; &
Representatives with the relevant health expertise.
3. Emergency Services should develop a specific information booklet for all the workers and their families who may have been exposed.
4. A counselling service should be established for all workers and their families. The counsellors would need to have expertise in the area of exposure to asbestos.
5. A screening program be established through the Dust Diseases Board and coordinated by Unions NSW and a possibility of using the Screening Service available through the Dust Diseases Board.
6. The establishment of a register and a surveillance program for all workers and their families who may have been exposed in line with the obligations set out in Clauses 164 to 174 in the OHS Regulation 2001.
7. The register is to be maintained by the employer in accordance with their obligations under the OHS Regulation 2001. A copy must be provided to Unions NSW and the FBEU.
8. Unions NSW to oversee and monitor the implementation of the above.
Your Union will keep members informed of developments.