November 15, 2018

Asbestos specialists to check NBN sites

The discovery of asbestos in pipes and pits owned by Telstra remains a safety concern, the boss of the company building the national broadband network says.

Telstra has stopped work preparing underground pipes and pits currently used by copper phonelines to house its fibre-optic cables, and deployed 200 specialists to look into breaches in asbestos management by its contractors.

The telco giant launched an audit of contractors this week after finding several cases of “non-compliant asbestos management and removal”.

“Telstra retain ownership of the pit and pipe infrastructure and retain the primary responsibility for the remediation of its infrastructure to make it fit for NBN practice,” NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley told a parliamentary hearing on Thursday.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she expected Telstra to follow Australia’s asbestos laws amid fears workers may have been exposed to the hazardous fibre.

Ms Gillard told parliament there were no shortcuts in dealing with asbestos.

“All safety procedures must be adhered to,” she said.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said he had informed Telstra chief executive David Thodey of his concerns.

Senator Conroy said Telstra had an obligation to ensure its pits and ducts were safe, secure and ready for network builder NBN Co.

Telstra chief operations officer Brendon Riley said the telco would take every precaution to strengthen its asbestos management.

The Office of Asbestos Safety had also been tasked with co-ordinating a national response to the incidents, he said.

Mr Quigley said he welcomed Telstra’s audit.

“We are extremely concerned anytime we hear proper processes have not been followed.”

Mr Quigley said the number one priority for NBN Co was the health and safety of its contractors, workers and communities.

There were issues at sites with asbestos in Ballarat, Hobart and South Australia.

Mr Quigley said Telstra and NBN Co would work together to further improve how they notified people of asbestos activity in their areas.

NBN Co is leasing the pits and ducts from Telstra for its cable rollout.

Liberal senator Michael Ronaldson asked Senator Conroy if he agreed with Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union official David Mier’s comparison of the rollout to the government’s failed pink batts insulation scheme.

“Telstra has acknowledged that the handling of the material has been insufficient, hasn’t followed procedure and requirements,” Senator Conroy replied.

Australia Post says it has stopped delivering mail to a western Sydney street amid fears of asbestos contamination near a pit at Penrith.

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Asbestos specialists to check NBN sites

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