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July 23, 2018

Work safety watchdog rejects union's asbestos claims

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“My belief is we have a competent group of removalists at the moment, there have been issues from time to time, but it’s not like there’s some widespread deficiency in the skill set,” Mr McCabe said.

“It won’t be like the pink batts [home insulation rollout] work, because pretty much everyone can do that work, where the drive was to get the money out the door for economic stimulus.

“The stress here is to get the money to owners, not removalists.”

CFMEU ACT branch secretary Dean Hall said it was critical the ACT government scrutinised applicants and spent what was needed to ensure the highest standard of removalist work.

“Everyone in the industry knows that there are some very problematic individuals and companies in the industry,” Mr Hall said.

“If it goes to an aggressive competitive tender process it’s going to serve the cowboys.”

Mr Hall said he was aware of removalists on a number of sites in recent years who had been seen, and in at least one case photographed, in asbestos-related exclusion zones without wearing the correct respiratory gear.

He also raised concerns about the alleged failure of some removalists to decontaminate before eating or having a cigarette.

Mr McCabe said WorkSafe had taken action in relation to a 2012 incident captured in CFMEU photographs, but there were only a small number of cases where removalists were proven to have the done the wrong thing.

He said recently announced restrictions and direct oversight of removalists by WorkSafe would ensure wider scrutiny.

Fyshwick asbestos assessor Peter Hengst said he had found no problems with ACT removalists and did not know of any local “cowboys”.

“Because I’m an assessor I often do inspections for other companies, and I find their standards pretty good,” Mr Hengst said.

Now working for Ozbestos, he began as an asbestos removalist in 1985 and became an assessor in 2007.

He said he welcomed moves to strengthen Worksafe oversight, after now-stark Fluffy memories from his past days as an electrician.

“I remember crawling through roofs thinking this [stuff] is brilliant, it’s not itchy.”

There were 70 Class A asbestos removalist licences this week, the only ACT licence which allows the removal of friable asbestos, including that used as loose-fill insulation, but Mr McCabe said the number of removalists who operated in Canberra was “barely in the double figures”.

He said he would be surprised if there were 20-30 used across the clean-up and demolition of the 1021 Mr Fluffy homes across the next five years.

“We’ll have a very close look at anyone we’re not familiar with,” he said.

Tell us your thoughts: Email: sunday@canberratimes.com.au











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Work safety watchdog rejects union's asbestos claims

Federal government abandons NSW over Mr Fluffy asbestos insulation threat, says Labor

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Taken from:  

Federal government abandons NSW over Mr Fluffy asbestos insulation threat, says Labor

Principal told to resign over asbestos

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“Chris has been a hard-working and popular principal of Wales Street Primary for the past seven years,” she wrote.

Ms Nagorcka said the school council had been working with the leadership of the school to address health and safety systems since the asbestos incident.

Mr Sexton refused to comment.

More than 500 people signed a petition to Education Department secretary Richard Bolt on change.org calling for the reinstatement of Mr Sexton.

“He is excellent at his job and is much loved by both the children and parents,” says the petition written by Vivian Hardwick.

“The school community has written hundreds of letters to the department requesting that Mr Sexton be reinstated immediately.”

Thirty-nine preps and their teachers were potentially exposed to the deadly asbestos fibres for a week in February.

An independent report provided to the department in April said it had “significant concerns about the works undertaken by the school and their subsequent response”.

It said an asbestos audit should have been completed before the renovation began, the school’s asbestos register and risk-management plan appeared to be substantially out of date and the classroom was reopened before appropriate clearance had been given.

“In our opinion the school should not have allowed this classroom to be used once potential concerns were raised.”

Parent Michael Sullivan said he was disappointed Mr Sexton would not return.

“There was an expectation that Chris would be back next year – we didn’t think it would come to this,” Mr Sullivan said.

“I do not believe he was solely responsible. Fundamentally the school loses twice. We’ve had the disappointment of the incident occurring in the first place and then the loss of a principal who has done an exceptional job in seven years at the school.

“I don’t see that is in the interest of parents and particularly children.”

Australian Education Union state president Meredith Peace said it would have been a difficult decision for Mr Sexton to resign.

“We have supported him throughout what’s been a pretty long and difficult process and we will continue to support him,” Ms Peace said.

“We remain very concerned that a significant responsibility such as asbestos is left up to school principals to manage. Asbestos is an incredibly dangerous substance and requires significant expertise which our principals don’t have. While they continue to be expected to do this we will continue to get incidents like this occurring.”

Ms Peace questioned what had been done to put in place a long-term plan for the removal of asbestos from school buildings.

Ms Nagorcka said the principal role would be advertised with a view to the person beginning in term one next year.

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Principal told to resign over asbestos

'Morally bankrupt': Asbestos victims slam James Hardie

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Under the scheme, scheduled to come into effect from July 1 next year, some proven claims will be paid to victims in instalments rather than as a lump sum, and some other liabilities will be deferred.

Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia president Barry Robson was outraged by the proposal which follows Hardie’s decision to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends.

“Victims don’t die by instalments,” he said. “They need lump sum payments to pay medical bills and for carers, and to look after themselves and their families.”

The average mesothelioma victim dies within 155 days of diagnosis.

Mr Robson said it was immoral to cut payments when victims were already out of the workforce.

The AICF said it had approached the NSW Supreme Court regarding the proposed scheme. Approval from the Supreme Court and the NSW Attorney-General is required under the James Hardie Former Subsidiaries Act (2005).

James Hardie has paid $US556 million to its investors over the past two years and the building materials company is spending $US200 million ($221 million) a year over the next three years expanding plant capacity in its core US market.

“It shows you how morally bankrupt the Hardie’s board are when it comes to victims,” Mr Robson said.

“Why can’t they put some money into the fund? It was their product that did it. They manufactured those products knowing that it was dangerous”.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said it was outrageous to “drip feed” victims and their families.

“It just adds insult to injury. Being paid on the drip is outrageous and adds uncertainty for victims who are dying from exposure to James Hardie’s products,” he said.

Mr Xenophon said he wrote to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and NSW Premier Mike Baird last week, urging them to investigate the funding gap.

“The response [to pay victims in instalments] is so outrageous that it deserves an extraordinary response,” Mr Xenophon said.

“The first step should be for the NSW and federal government to eyeball James Hardie executives and a legislative solution has to be on the table.”

James Hardie paid $120 million into the fund on July 1, which is all the fund had to pay claims as of July 3 after repaying $51.6 million in interest and principal from a previous drawdown on the loan facility.

The company has paid $721.4 million into the AICF since its inception in February 2007.

In the latest annual report, KPMG, the fund’s actuary, raised its base case estimate of claims liabilities by 12.6 per cent to $1.9 billion.

KPMG updates its forecasts based on the number, types and size of claims.

The AICF has paid almost $800 million and settled almost 4000 claims since its formation.

James Hardie said on Monday that any potential funding shortfall was “regrettable” and that it intended to stick to the present arrangement as specified in the 2006 amended final funding agreement.

The company said it was “available for discussions” with the AICF and government “specifically in relation to APS [approved payment scheme]”.

Discussions could take place as soon as this week. Mr Robson said he was trying to put together meetings with the office of Premier Mike Baird.

James Hardie has said it wants to increase its balance sheet gearing to about $US500 million. That figure implies the company wants to return about $US700 million in capital.

CIMB analyst Andrew Scott said that while the circumstances might may demand an APS-style solution, the prospect of delayed payments to claimants was unacceptable.

“We expect further negative publicity as a minimum and increased political pressure as highly likely,” he said. “Beyond that a final resolution is difficult to predict, but may make it more difficult for James Hardie to return excess funds to shareholders.”

Under the terms of the 2010 standby loan facility with the NSW government, the available drawdown is capped at the amount of the potential proceeds of insurance recoveries that may be available to the AICF.

KPMG estimates the present value of available drawings at $214 million. The fund expects to pay $500 million worth of claims over the next three years.

Based on current modelling, the fund said it would be able to pay claims as they fell due if ;the loan facility was increased to $320 million.

“They shouldn’t go to the public purse,” Mr Robson said.

“The loan arrangement is a backstop if the worst comes to worst, like if the US housing market hits rock bottom.

“The message [to James Hardie] is: put some money into the fund,” he said.

James Hardie saysthat the 35 per cent of operating cash flow it pays under the present arrangement is the maximum it can pay to grow and remain competitive.

Mr Robson and Mr Xenophon have said they want James Hardie to remain financially strong to ensure it can keep paying claims.











Continued:

'Morally bankrupt': Asbestos victims slam James Hardie

Welcome to the asbestos houses

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Property data shows at least five have been sold during the 1990s.

They were put together in panel polystyrene blocks sandwiched between asbestos cement facings.

Mr Kelly discovered the danger when he was in the middle of renovating and a neighbour ran over shouting for him to stop.

Mr Kelly discovered the danger when he was in the middle of renovating and a neighbour ran over shouting for him to stop.

Resident Jay Kelly discovered what his house was made of after starting renovations. He paid $357,500 for the three-bedroom house in 2009.

The commercial refrigeration mechanic planned to renovate for a few years and build equity to invest into land at Michelago while keeping the house as an investment.

He says at no stage in the sales process was he informed it was made almost entirely of asbestos and he is now stuck with a worthless house that he won’t be able to sell and can’t afford to knock down.

“I’ve gone back hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Mr Kelly said.

The building report describes the construction as “fibre cement sheet clad sandwich panels over foam, with metal wall framing” but the composition was not listed as known.

Under ACT legislation vendors must provide an asbestos assessment report, if there is one, or generic advice on asbestos if there is not – this is what the young first home buyer received.

Despite the fact the government built the houses and allowed them to be sold, ACT authorities have told the owners it is up to them to fix the problem.

Mr Kelly discovered the danger when he was in the middle of renovating and a neighbour ran over shouting for him to stop.

He had already done internal work including sanding and repairing in preparation for repainting the pink walls.

Mr Kelly sent a sample of the house to the ACT Government Analytical Laboratory for testing where it was found to be bonded chrysotile asbestos.

This is the most common form of the substance in the ACT and it differs from the amosite loose-fill asbestos now plaguing thousands of the city’s residents.

The loose asbestos was pumped into ceilings as insulation and is always present in a dangerous form as microscopic fibres. Bonded chrysotile asbestos becomes dangerous when it is degraded or disturbed and fibres are released.

Another test by Robson Environmental showed the chrysotile asbestos to be in the internal walls, external walls, ceiling sheets, eaves sheets and joint cover strips.

“No renovation or repair may be carried out in this house if it involves drilling, screwing or sanding which may disturb asbestos containing materials,” it said.

The report also rated the internal house as being in good condition with no risk of exposure during normal building use.

But, Mr Kelly said, his house remains dangerous due in part to its poor design and lack of insulation which causes mould to constantly grow on all surfaces and leads to paint cracking because of the moisture.

He is continually repainting but cannot work on the house to improve the situation.

The other day he caught his partner’s young son sticking his finger into the hole in the wall where a towel rail had been pulled out.

“How do you teach an eight-year-old asbestos awareness?” he said.

Mr Kelly feels trapped in the house that he can’t do any work on and is angry that the advice he has been given from the government is not realistic.

He said his home does not contain a manageable amount of asbestos and if he was to remove the substance he would be left with only windows and a tin roof.

“I can’t just sell the house because I can’t pass it on to someone else,” he said.

“I can’t rent it out – who would live here with the mould.”

Mr Kelly and the other home owners want action on the matter, believing their health and financial security are under threat.

Do you know more? Email meredith.clisby@fairfaxmedia.com.au.











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Welcome to the asbestos houses

Queanbeyan residents warned on Mr Fluffy asbestos

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The council’s general manager, Gary Chapman, said the letter had gone to the 11 owners and to the tenants of the block of flats.

It warns that people should not enter the roof space or floor cavity and should not disturb the areas or the walls.

“Any cracks or holes that penetrate the ceiling, walls and floors have the potential to allow fibres into the living areas and should be repaired in a safe manner,” it says. “This includes vents in walls, exhaust fans in ceilings, openings for lighting fixtures, maintenance on openings for power points and the like.”

It is critical that tradespeople are told about the asbestos, “otherwise there is a high likelihood that they will expose themselves and members of the household to fibres”, the letter says, urging householders to also put asbestos warning certificates on their electrical meter boxes and on manholes leading to the roof space.

The letter quotes the NSW Health Department’s advice that exposure is likely to be very low provided the asbestos is undisturbed and sealed off from living areas, and says it is therefore important to make sure homes are well maintained.

“It is likely that fibres have travelled down wall cavities and even into sub-floor spaces where these interconnect with the ceiling space,” it says. “This should be assumed unless you have evidence to the contrary.

“Even in homes where the asbestos insulation material has been removed from the ceiling space, there is still a high likelihood that asbestos fibres will be found in wall cavities and in underfloor areas where the home has a timber floor.”

The council is also considering a “generic statement” about the use of asbestos in pre-1980s houses on conveyancing certificates included with all house sales.

Over the years, Queanbeyan City Council has to persuade the NSW and federal governments to help pay for the asbestos to be removed from homes, offering in 2005 to contribute funds itself, but has been rebuffed at every turn. In June, Queanbeyan major Tim Overall wrote to federal Eden-Monaro MP Peter Hendy and the state MP for the area, John Barilaro, asking for a meeting.

Mr Chapman said the council did not have the money and was not the right authority to deal with the problem.

“If you’re talking abut knocking down houses and rebuilding houses, you’re talking about many millions of dollars,” he said “It could run into tens of millions of dollars and certainly the council doesn’t have the finances to do that.”

ACT asbestos taskforce head Andrew Kefford confirmed this week he had received inquiries from Queanbeyan residents but had to turn them away.











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Queanbeyan residents warned on Mr Fluffy asbestos

Govt rejects asbestos claims

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The union maintains the partially demolished site is a public health disaster in the making, with broken cement sheeting causing wind gusts to blow the deadly fibres across the city.

Health fears were raised publicly last week when it was revealed the prominent CBD site, in the heart of Brisbane’s business district, was abandoned mid-demolition when the contractor, the Wacol-based P&K Demolitions went broke, owing $3.7 million to creditors.

The director of River City Asbestos Removals, the company contracted by P&K Demolitions to safely remove the cement sheeting, said he had not been able to declare some areas of the site safe, prompting fears thousands of city workers could unwittingly be inhaling the deadly airborne fibres.

Despite the departmental test results, CFMEU Queensland and Northern Territory branch president David Hanna said workplace health and safety officers had neglected their duties in properly supervising the demolition of the 1970s buildings, which they knew contained large amounts of asbestos.

“Everyone has known there has been asbestos there all along and that’s fine, if it’s managed well but it just hasn’t been,” he said.

“The asbestos has to be taken off in full sheets but this has been broken and parts have been pushed off the roof.

“There has been no reticulation system put in place, so there was no way to contain any of the dust that rose and spread.”

Mr Hanna said CFMEU members on site raised concerns about the asbestos removal procedures in early June, six months after the demolition process began.

He said all asbestos needed to be removed in a “soft strip” before demolition work commenced, which he alleged had not been the case.

Mr Hanna said the workplace health and safety officers should move quickly to install a reticulation system to prevent dust blowing off the site, despite its test results returning a negative finding for the fibres.

“It’s no good the department saying it’s not their responsibility, the department is there to protect the public to ensure legislation is adhered to,” he said.

“We think the department should ensure the asbestos is contained and removed in a proper manner and that means a sprinkler system needs to be set up as a precaution straight away.”

The Workplace Health and Safety spokesperson said sealed bags of asbestos remained on site at 300 George Street but that they that posed no public health risk.

“The sealed bags of asbestos still remain on-site, and demolition cannot resume until the bags are collected. It is the responsibility of the site owner to manage the safe removal of these bags,” the spokesperson said.

The developer, the Taiwanese-based Shayher Group, has not been available for comment.

The procurement process to find a new demolitionist is underway.

The CFMEU’s independent testing was undertaken by environmental consultancy Parsons Brinckerhoff. It did not undertake independent air testing at the site.











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Govt rejects asbestos claims

Government rejects union claims of asbestos risks

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The union maintains the partially demolished site is a public health disaster in the making, with broken cement sheeting causing wind gusts to blow the deadly fibres across the city.

Health fears were raised publicly last week when it was revealed the prominent CBD site, in the heart of Brisbane’s business district, was abandoned mid-demolition when the contractor, the Wacol-based P&K Demolitions went broke, owing $3.7 million to creditors.

The director of River City Asbestos Removals, the company contracted by P&K Demolitions to safely remove the cement sheeting, said he had not been able to declare some areas of the site safe, prompting fears thousands of city workers could unwittingly be inhaling the deadly airborne fibres.

Despite the departmental test results, CFMEU Queensland and Northern Territory branch president David Hanna said workplace health and safety officers had neglected their duties in properly supervising the demolition of the 1970s buildings, which they knew contained large amounts of asbestos.

“Everyone has known there has been asbestos there all along and that’s fine, if it’s managed well but it just hasn’t been,” he said.

“The asbestos has to be taken off in full sheets but this has been broken and parts have been pushed off the roof.

“There has been no reticulation system put in place, so there was no way to contain any of the dust that rose and spread.”

Mr Hanna said CFMEU members on site raised concerns about the asbestos removal procedures in early June, six months after the demolition process began.

He said all asbestos needed to be removed in a “soft strip” before demolition work commenced, which he alleged had not been the case.

Mr Hanna said the workplace health and safety officers should move quickly to install a reticulation system to prevent dust blowing off the site, despite its test results returning a negative finding for the fibres.

“It’s no good the department saying it’s not their responsibility, the department is there to protect the public to ensure legislation is adhered to,” he said.

“We think the department should ensure the asbestos is contained and removed in a proper manner and that means a sprinkler system needs to be set up as a precaution straight away.”

The Workplace Health and Safety spokesperson said sealed bags of asbestos remained on site at 300 George Street but that they that posed no public health risk.

“The sealed bags of asbestos still remain on-site, and demolition cannot resume until the bags are collected. It is the responsibility of the site owner to manage the safe removal of these bags,” the spokesperson said.

The developer, the Taiwanese-based Shayher Group, has not been available for comment.

The procurement process to find a new demolitionist is underway.

The CFMEU’s independent testing was undertaken by environmental consultancy Parsons Brinckerhoff. It did not undertake independent air testing at the site.











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Government rejects union claims of asbestos risks

Asbestos's toxic sprawl revealed

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The data shows that there were at least 41 more homes on the list with Mr Fluffy asbestos than the 1049 that were remediated following the survey.

Data displayed above represents the number of houses per suburb affected, and does not reflect the actual locations of affected homes.

A spokesperson for Workplace Safety Minister Simon Corbell said the list of houses had been taken from the list originally surveyed for loose-fill asbestos.

He said the list of 1049 houses relates to the number of houses that were identified for the purposes of the 2014 mail-out as having been part of the program.

“There are many reasons for possible discrepancies between the two numbers, including the demolition of some houses that were originally identified,” the spokesman said.

The suburb breakdown shows that Kambah, Curtin and Pearce had the highest number of Mr Fluffy homes in the territory.

There were 103 homes identified in the Tuggeranong suburb followed by 43 in Curtin and 40 in Pearce.

There were more than 30 Mr Fluffy homes discovered in the suburbs of Fisher, Farrer, Holder, Lyons, Torrens and Weston.

Just under 30 homes were found to contain the dormant danger in Chapman, Duffy, Flynn, Hackett, Melba and Rivett.

The loose-fill asbestos insulation scourge was discovered by assessors more than 30 years ago to have been pumped into ceilings in Belconnen, Weston Creek, Tuggeranong and Gungahlin as well as in inner-south and north Canberra.

Mr Fluffy was pumped into the ceilings of O’Malley, Red Hill and Forrest homes.

It was spread south as far as Tharwa and north as far as Hall, to Oaks Estate and Fyshwick and housing of the ANU.

The list shows that the homes pumped full of the deadly fibres are all over the territory and not only concentrated in the inner established areas.

The survey was conducted to determine how many homes would need to be remediated under the Loose Asbestos Insulation Removal Program, which was carried out between 1988 and 1993.

The federal government spent $100 million removing the insulation in 1049 homes determined to have the substance.

The ACT government wrote to the owners of these homes in February urging them to get an assessment done on the property as residual fibres could be present.

The vast majority of these assessments carried out since the warning have tested positive for remnant amosite within the walls and subfloors.

More than a dozen required the intervention of ACT WorkSafe for short or long-term lockdowns after the asbestos was found in living areas.

The ACT government has started to announce a series of actions it will take to address the concerns of the Mr Fluffy home owners and those who may come into contact with the homes.

This includes the announcement this week that all workers who might be exposed to asbestos complete training by September 30.

About 12,000 workers in more than 64 different occupations will be required to complete asbestos training.

An asbestos taskforce to assist the families affected has also been set up.

Workplace Safety Minister Simon Corbell has said that he does not consider the release of the addresses of Mr Fluffy homes to be the solution to identifying and managing risks associated with the houses in the program.











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Asbestos's toxic sprawl revealed

Asbestos sites at Birrigai school campsite covered in topsoil, fenced off

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Mr McNamara, whose mother died of mesithelioma after the family did bathroom renovations involving asbestos, said Birrigai was safe and he would have no problem sending his own children there.

“I know only two well what horrible stuff this and there’s no way that we’d risk anyone’s health out there,” he said. “I’m confident that … it’s safe.”

The asbestos had probably came from the sheds and houses there before the 2003 bushfires, and been exposed by heavy rains. He had become aware of it about October last year.

Earlier, Mr Bray said the asbestos finds were “so extensive that normal remediation work where you dig it up and take it to a disposal site would be prohibitively expensive”.

The asbestos not in the camp buildings. It had even been found in areas well away from the buildings, and it was “hard to know how far it goes”.

The fragments were bonded asbestos cement, which was “generally safe unless drilled, sandpapered, broken or handled”.

“Unless a child was to pick it up and rub in their hands and breathe it or ingest it, it’s very low-risk material,” he said.

The asbestos cement sheeting is not the same as the loose-fill Mr Fluffy asbestos causing distress after being found in Canberra homes.

Canberra Grammar School cancelled a Year 3 camp scheduled for June after news of the asbestos contamination, but other schools are still using Birrigai. Mr Bray said students, staff and parents were being made aware of the risk when they visited.

The remediation work had been finished two weeks ago, and a second official, Stephen Gwilliam, said it was “business as usual”.

An information pack went to visiting schools and other groups outlining the contamination and including a map of the areas where it had been found and induction procedures for visitors, Mr Gwilliam, a school network leader for Tuggeranong, said.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Joy Burch said 40 ACT schools had visited Birrigai this year, with only one cancellation. Schools received a letter advising of the asbestos situation, and “may use this to inform their school communities and families of students”, she said.

The ACT Government’s Tidbinbilla website has a series of risk management plans covering risks at Birrigai, from strangers on site, to natural disasters, lost students, snake bites and wildlife hazards, swooping birds, and even splinters. Asbestos does not appear to feature.

Radford school, though, has identified the asbestos risk, in a management plan that considers the possibility that students would “unknowingly pick up a piece of bonded asbestos containing material and release the fibres through hammering, drilling, abrasion” – a risk it assesses as having a remote likelihood.











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Asbestos sites at Birrigai school campsite covered in topsoil, fenced off