“Duty of care” – Holsworthy asbestos scandal

July 12, 2006

Two years and six weeks after ‘Operation Explorer’, the biggest NSWFB anti-terrorism exercise to date, the facts are finally starting to emerge from the fog of managerial responsibility. It was only yesterday afternoon that the Department finally (and reluctantly) handed the FBEU a chronology of events that saw hundreds of emergency services workers exposed to potentially lethal contamination by deadly asbestos needles.

The facts to emerge from the report so far include:

  1. The Holsworthy site is likely to have been contaminated for over two years, with literally hundreds of emergency services workers categorised as most at risk in exposure to potentially deadly asbestos needles.
  2. Commissioner Mullins was informed that asbestos had been found on the Holsworthy site sometime between September 15th and 19th, 2005.
  3. The FBEU was only informed after senior executive management of the SES, the Ambulance service and Police force were briefed on the matter.
  4. WorkCover was initially led to believe that the risk of exposure had been negligible, however this was later found to be untrue and at least three different types of asbestos contaminants have now been found on the site.
  5. The Department failed in its legislative obligation to notify WorkCover within seven days, and did not comply with its own In Orders 2004/7.

Literally hundreds of decent, hard-working FBEU members were exposed to a deadly substance that has no safe level of exposure. The gestation period for lung disease and cancers developed as a result of exposure to asbestos can take up to 30 years – long after the Commissioner and his spin doctors have moved on.

The FBEU is firmly of the view that all members should be afforded comprehensive medical testing of lung function and capacity at the expense of the NSWFB and not on a restricted cost-recovery basis, as was proposed by the Commissioner in a letter to all exposed members today. At the very least this will allow a benchmark against which the potential for degeneration of firefighters’ lungs can be measured should any members suffer lung disease.

The FBEU does not concur with the view put forward by the NSW Department of Health that “…any exposure could not be differentiated from that of normal suburban environments.” It is offensive in the extreme to suggest that members who had been consistently exposed to contamination with little if any appropriate PPE should now accept that the risk is negligible.

Members should be under no doubt that if WorkCover does not prosecute the Department for failing to comply with its obligations, then the Union now will.

Simon Flynn

State Secretary



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