October 22, 2018

Asbestos found at Sydney Harbour Bridge left uncovered

Some 150 Sydney Harbour Bridge maintenance workers have walked off the job as testing continues into asbestos contamination.

The site was shut down and a stop-work order was issued this morning after a meeting between union representatives and the NSW Roads and Maritime Service (RMS).

Meanwhile, to remove piles of broken asbestos believed to have been thrown from a truck in Sydney’s inner west in the early hours of this morning.

A pile of uncovered asbestos left by private contractors called in to fix a blocked drain was found on Wednesday night near the workers’ lunchroom and toilets at the Harbour Bridge.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) NSW secretary Brian Parker says the workers are worried they and their families have been exposed.

“We don’t know the level of exposure, we don’t know if it’s all clear … there has been some clean-up of the area but the testing results will identify if it is all clear,” he said.

RMS has admitted that asbestos uncovered at the bridge was not immediately sealed after it was found.

Yesterday, with the agreement of management after the asbestos was found.

RMS initially issued a statement saying the site of the Harbour Bridge asbestos discovery had been immediately isolated and sealed after plumbers had uncovered asbestos pipes under cement.

But when asked by the ABC about eyewitness accounts of uncovered asbestos, it issued a “clarification”.

“Once testing determined the presence of asbestos, the area was isolated,” RMS said in a statement.

CFMEU safety co-ordinator Michael Preston says he was called to a site near the southern pylon of the bridge yesterday after a worker noticed a pile of asbestos.

“When I got to the site there was still some open pieces just in the bin, and they were in the process of taping up the rest, getting it ready to send off,” Mr Preston said.

Airborne asbestos can cause life-threatening lung diseases, often many years after exposure.

Mr Preston says an exclusion zone should be set up immediately if asbestos is found, before specialist asbestos workers wearing protective equipment seal the area.

But Mr Preston says he witnessed people bagging the asbestos in an un-cordoned area yesterday morning, without protective equipment.

No official from RMS was available to speak directly to the ABC about the incident.

A spokesperson says workers were allowed to leave the job yesterday so the asbestos could be removed.

“We are coming across it daily on construction sites, workers are being exposed and it is just not being dealt with seriously enough, anywhere,” Mr Preston said.

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Asbestos found at Sydney Harbour Bridge left uncovered

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