January 21, 2019

Warrnambool council depot closes after asbestos scare

ASBESTOS contamination fears were sparked after suspicious-looking sheeting was thrown into a crusher at a Warrnambool depot.

The gates are locked at Warrnambool City Council’s Scott Street depot after an asbestos scare. 141212RG17 Picture: ROB GUNSTONE

The gates are locked at Warrnambool City Council’s Scott Street depot after an asbestos scare. 141212RG17 Picture: ROB GUNSTONE

Warrnambool City Council’s Strong Street depot was in lockdown yesterday after the discovery of material believed to contain asbestos.

About 20 depot staff were working in the vicinity at the time the sheeting was found.

A snap meeting between council chiefs and workers was held yesterday morning.

Australian Services Union regional organiser Mark Brady said the suspicious sheeting was placed in a concrete crusher, leading to concerns over the potential spread of asbestos particles.

“This is going to be a massive cost to the council one way or another,” Mr Brady said.

“What we understand is the sheeting was identified as potentially asbestos on Tuesday, yet it’s only when we get to Thursday when there’s some strong reaction to the problem.

“The concrete crusher reduces material to powder, which is the state at which asbestos is at its most dangerous. If that’s got onto people’s skin, onto clothing and picked up by the wind, that is a real concern.”

Dust-supressing sprinklers were turned on and other precautions taken as safety officials travelled from Geelong yesterday to contain the site and assess if the crushed material was asbestos.

Text messages were sent to Strong Street depot workers on Thursday evening informing them not to go to work yesterday.

The city council confirmed that a small amount of asbestos-like sheeting was found on Tuesday and was bagged and sealed following expert advice.

The sheeting was found with used road-making materials which were being prepared for recycling.

On Wednesday another quantity of sheeting was discovered near stockpiled road materials, which led council officials to close the depot while testing of the material took place.

City council chief executive Bruce Anson said an independent expert was undertaking an extensive audit of the depot yesterday.

“The initial assessment across our entire depot and around its boundaries has shown there is no asbestos contamination beyond the few pieces found that have since been sealed and removed,” Mr Anson said in a statement. “The closure of the depot is a precautionary measure while we determine whether there is a serious problem and, if there is, the extent of it.”

Mr Anson said WorkSafe had been notified and the city council was following recommended procedures.

“The material thought to contain asbestos was hosed down to ensure it was contained,” he said. “We’re keeping our depot staff — who informed us of the suspect material — apprised of the situation.”

Mr Brady said the workers operating the crusher had not been trained to handle asbestos, adding that the incident highlighted the need for greater checks and balances.

“We’re all too aware of the horrors of asbestos from the news over the years,” the ASU official said.

“We need to ensure our work sites are safe and one of the ways to do that is to provide proper training.”

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Warrnambool council depot closes after asbestos scare