NBN Asbestos: Hazards of transport and recycling the contaminated copper cable

What happens with asbestos contaminated cable from the NBN project?  Exposure to asbestos will not stop with the workers and neighbors.  The project planning stage of the NBN should have identified that the cable will be potentially contaminated.

Put 2+2 together.  What happens when you drag cables through asbestos ducts and pits?  It is logical that the duct and pit surfaces will be abraded and the cable will be contaminated.  Where is this mountain of cable going to go?

Copper is valuable currently being about $7,500 per tonne.  Where-ever the cable goes will create further exposures; transport workers, recycling plant workers, neighbors of the recycling facility, subsequent occupants of the recycling facility, etc.

What recycling method will be used?  It seems likely that the first step would be a cutting/granulating process.  What happens when you cut asbestos contaminated cable into small pieces?  The outcome can not be good.  Is there any worse possible thing to do with asbestos than to put it through a grinder?

Who will get to recycle possibly thousands of tonnes of contaminated cable?  Will it be exported to China or India?

These risks are supposed to be addressed at the planning stage.  The safest decision without any doubt was not to disturb existing ducts and pits.  And most importantly do not drag cables through the system and create this problem in the first place.  The basic project planning is flawed.

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About John Culvenor

Hi, Thank you for taking a look at this blog. I work in engineering, ergonomics, creativity, design, training, etc. Often this is about helping solve legal puzzles through accident analysis. Sometimes it is about thinking up better designs for equipment, workplaces, and systems. This blog is about good design and bad design, accident analysis and how it can be done better, and how we can make a better, safer world by design!
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6 Responses to NBN Asbestos: Hazards of transport and recycling the contaminated copper cable

  1. mikebehm says:

    Hi John. Probably not China or India….they would charge too much now. Maybe Uzbekistan or Nepal…there is always some politician in a developing country ready to cut a deal with the “first world” at a good price in both perspectives,,,such a shame. The general public may never know…or care! I have been following your posts on this issue and you are doing great by not bending!! Keep up the good arguement.

  2. mikebehm says:

    …and that arguement is better design and planning. hey, but I bet if the workers had a better “safety culture” they’d be fine, right? (insert sarcasm). I say let’s shift problem solving from the worker level to the design and planning phases by integrating worker knowledge and safety thinking there. that is safety culture. a safety culture respects the workers’ views and utilizes it to arrange conditions for those workers to be successful. I’m disgusted by those who think that because I’m a proponent of safe deisgn that I dissassociate safety and health from the worker…nothing could be further from the truth. I’m disgusted by the continued mindset of the “safety culturists”!!

  3. Mike, Thank you.

    On the countries that will get our contaminated cable. Yes, China and India might be undercut. And perhaps they might be sensible enough not to all the import of any communication cable for recycling from Australia. There will be no way of knowing which cable is which, what has come from asbestos ducts and which hasn’t.

    On your point about culture. Agreed. The “safe culture” often just means safe behavior of workers and contractors. We are getting that story in the NBN asbestos debacle. After deliberately engineering one of Australia’s greatest ever disturbances of otherwise buried asbestos pipes, our Australian government and commentators are talking about the need for “risk assessments” on the job sites and “safe work method statements”. This is just a patch-up job on a bad design which will not work as well as leaving it alone in the first place.

  4. mikebehm says:

    Hi John. Carl Rollenhagen’s 2010 article in Safety Science, “Can focus on safety culture become an excuse for not rethinking design of technology?” is a great one for ideas. I just re-read it, and wow it is inspiring me in lots of ways. I will send it to you if you don’t have it.

  5. Pingback: The “card” will protect you: deciphering asbestos propaganda | safedesign

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