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Protesters clad in asbestos equipment demand largest NSW power company remove deadly product

Paul Lister - Friday, July 22, 2016

Dozens of protesters wearing protective asbestos equipment will this morning target the head office of the nation’s largest electricity distributor, Ausgrid, to demand immediate action to safely remove the deadly substance from across the power network.

The Electrical Trades Union wrote to the company this week demanding action after it was revealed that efforts to remove asbestos — including in its most dangerous friable state — had stalled, leaving workers and community members at risk.

The union said documents obtained through freedom of information showed at least 29 current and former Ausgrid employees had been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases — including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer — between 2002 and 2012.

ETU organiser Mark Buttigieg said that with the imminent sale of the company, workers feared the NSW Government was trying to pass the buck, leaving a future owner to deal with the problem.

Protesters in asbestos suits demand removal of deadly substance
Where: outside Ausgrid head office, 570 George Street, Sydney
When: 11.30am TODAY — Friday 22 July, 2016

In 2013, Ausgrid management agreed to a series of remediation actions, including the immediate removal of friable asbestos from 10 substations, an audit of all asbestos-containing material in substations in the Sydney CBD, the provision of extra resources for asbestos removal, and the development of programs to remove and remediate fire doors and other components containing asbestos at substations and in other facilities.

The union this week wrote to Ausgrid chief operating officer Trevor Armstrong to highlight concerns that management had breached this agreement, with asbestos products remaining in substations throughout the CBD and serious cuts to the resources allocated to the issue — including to the company’s Asbestos Management Unit.

“Huge amounts of asbestos remain across the electricity network, from substations in the city to transformers in suburban streets,” Mr Buttigieg said.

“Most concerning is the fact that much of this asbestos is friable, which means the individual fibres are loose and — when disturbed — can easily be inhaled.

“This is the most dangerous form of asbestos, with even the smallest number of asbestos fibres capable of causing debilitating and even deadly diseases.

“We are already seeing two people die every year as a direct result of asbestos related diseases that they contracted while working on the NSW electricity network.”

Mr Buttigieg said Ausgrid appeared to be in breach of commitments made in 2013 that were meant to see a substantial increase in the resources put into identifying and removing asbestos.

The same agreement required the company to implement a process where workers could identify and record the presence and condition of asbestos in customer meter boards, which has also not occurred.

“Asbestos in the power network isn’t just hidden away in big substations, it is found in the meter box on thousands of homes, in transformers on suburban streets, and throughout the electricity infrastructure in Sydney’s central business district,” Mr Buttigieg said.

“The longer it remains there, particularly as it deteriorates over time and releases airborne fibres, the greater the risk that is posed to electricity workers and the general public.

“Rather than pass the buck to a future owner and hope that they will do the right thing, the NSW Government and Ausgrid management need to act now to remove this deadly substance.”