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December 16, 2017

Patients had asbestos risk, say workers


Patients had asbestos risk, say workers


GEORGINA STYLIANOU AND OLIVIA CARVILLE

Last updated 08:07 06/05/2013

Industrial abseilers

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ

CONCERNED: Industrial abseilers, from left, Neil Silcock, Liam Milner, Petra Doner and Jeff Richards who are not impressed with the response to them discovering they were dealing with asbestos while working on the Parkside Block at Christchurch Hospital.

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Contractors exposed to asbestos while working at Christchurch Hospital are outraged they may have unknowingly put patients and staff at risk to the poisonous substance while walking through active wards.

Official test results, obtained by The Press, confirm subcontractors for exterior building firm Goleman were exposed to asbestos while working on the roof of the hospital’s earthquake-damaged Parkside building in early April.

Several workers say they walked through wards and saw patients in hospital beds, unknowingly wearing potentially contaminated material, for more than a week after Goleman had received test results that confirmed the presence of white asbestos on the roof site.

The Government is investigating the issue after it received a complaint about the possible health risk but the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) said there was no concern for patient or staff safety.

The workers, who were removing moss and lichen from the hospital roof, were concerned the material they were working with contained asbestos and gave the CDHB maintenance officer a sample to test on March 27.

External chemical risk management company, Chemsafety, tested the sample and preliminary results confirming the presence of white asbestos were sent to the CDHB on April 2.

Goleman was informed of the test results and advised to stop work immediately by the CDHB.

An agenda for a Goleman staff meeting on April 3, which 25 of the 27 possible employees attended, mentioned the possibility of asbestos on the site with the phrase “stop, think and if not safe, don’t do”.

However, four contractors maintain they were not told about the risk. The work continued for the next 10 days.

Workers told The Press up to 10 Goleman employees may have been exposed to asbestos and said they were not advised of the potential health and safety hazard or told of the positive test results by Goleman.

A group of 10 workers approached Fletchers, the project manager for the hospital, amid growing concerns their workplace could be contaminated, on April 10. Fletchers immediately shut the site down.

Results from a second test sample were received by the CDHB on April 12, which once again came back as positive, and Goleman was again immediately informed.

On that same day, Goleman workers were ordered to pick up gear, including ropes, clothing and hoses, from the contaminated work site and carry it in sealed plastic bags through Parkside and into Christchurch Women’s Hospital, where they were due to begin work on the roof.

The workers say they were told by Goleman that the tests had come back positive later that same afternoon and were asked to bring in any clothing that may have been contaminated.

Goleman employees Jeff Richards and his partner, Petra Doner, both handed in their resignation on April 15, furious they were “put in danger without choice”.

Richards, an industrial abseiler who worked on the site, believes Goleman downplayed the risk of exposure to asbestos for the workers, hospital staff and patients and handled the situation “very poorly”.


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He said workers were not formally told about the asbestos until the site had been shut down and that they were not given any warning of the potential danger or any advice or extra protective equipment by Goleman after the positive test results.

Richards and fellow colleagues Liam Milner and Neil Silcock said they walked through corridors “past patients in hospital beds”, and used the same elevators as doctors, nurses and the public during the week the work continued at the site.

“The gear we were wearing and carrying was potentially covered in asbestos and there is a good chance those people were exposed to it that we walked past in the hospital,” Richards said.

“It’s a massive public health issue.”

Goleman general manager Luke Goleman disputed his employees’ claims and said the firm “took action the moment we found there has been the slightest risk of asbestos”. Goleman changed the work methodology to protect staff.

Clothing samples taken from the workers for testing have all returned free of any contamination, he said.

He believed Goleman handled the situation well.

“Goleman acted on all information as it came to hand and were proactive in the initial testing of the roofing material to assure the safety of our staff.”

CDHB chief executive David Meates was made aware of the situation only on Friday morning, after Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove informed him.

Four Goleman employees (Richards, Doner, Milner and Silcock) provided Cosgrove with written statements and a copy of the tests results at his mobile office in Rangiora on April 29.

“These are some very serious allegations. We’re talking about patients, staff and Goleman workers being exposed to potentially contaminated material,” Cosgrove said.

Meates said he was confident CDHB staff acted “promptly and appropriately” when they were first alerted to the possibility of asbestos being present in the roofing material.

“I would like to stress that at no time has there been any concerns for patient or staff safety.”

A CDHB spokeswoman said last night there she would find out if the workers had had access to hospital wards.

– © Fairfax NZ News


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