In a very rare move, SafeWork NSW has issued a Prohibition Order, shutting down the $200 million renovation of the Sydney Opera House after electrical workers raised the alarm over deadly asbestos on site.
Scientific testing last Friday confirmed samples taken from work areas at the iconic site contained friable
asbestos, posing a serious health risk and leaving workers with no other option but to walk off the job immediately.
On Monday, the safety regulator issued builder Laing O’Rourke with the order, requiring all work to cease in the ceiling space of the Joan Sutherland Theatre - the Opera House’s second biggest theatre and performance space.
The Electrical Trades Union said 35 electricians employed by electrical contractor Downer have been exposed to loose, cancer-causing asbestos fibres while installing cabling.
“Opera House workers, performers and patrons have been put at serious risk because builder Laing O’Rourke has continually failed to find a solution to this critical safety issue,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.
“This is the second time in two months asbestos concerns have shut down renovations at the Opera House and the ETU is demanding to be involved in approving any asbestos removal or remediation plans.
“The NSW Government owns this building and must step up to ensure the asbestos removal is done properly as part of this major upgrade, particularly given the builder is receiving $200 million taxpayer dollars to carry out the renovations.
“The ETU is calling for the full removal of asbestos from the Opera House as part of the renovation works to also protect future generations of workers, performers and patrons.”
Asbestos contamination at the Opera House was first identified two months ago, with SafeWork NSW issuing improvement notices to builder Laing O’Rourke, giving the company seven days to eliminate the threat to workers.
Instead of clearing up the dangers, Laing O’Rourke has threatened to take workers to the Fair Work Commission, accusing them of taking unlawful industrial action after they chose to put their safety first and stop work on the site.
“These workers were faced with putting their jobs and even their lives on the line, knowing they were working on a potentially deadly site,” Mr McKinley said.
“The ETU will always fight for the safety of workers at the Opera House to ensure their workplace is free of hazardous and deadly asbestos.
“The NSW has an obligation to future generations that sites like the Opera House are cleared of asbestos so that this scourge doesn’t continue for years to come.”