The “card” will protect you: deciphering asbestos propaganda

Here is my opinion on the meaning (in blue) behind this press release on the NBN asbestos problem:  The original text is from Independent Monitoring of Asbestos Removal: a press release from the Hon Bill Shorten Minister for Workplace Relations 15 July 2013.

“Fourteen monitors will be recruited around Australia to report to the independent Asbestos Taskforce, checking the removal and handling of asbestos in Telstra pits.  This initiative, agreed by the Independent Asbestos Taskforce, will verify that work on the NBN rollout that may involve asbestos-containing materials is conducted in a way that ensures the safety of employees, contractors, nearby residents and the general public.”

Meaning: The project is going to continue to disturb asbestos while 14 people look on.  The only way the asbestos would have been safe is to leave it safely buried.  It was safe.  The NBN design made it unsafe.  This should have been part of the project risk assessment which is either missing or deficiently conducted.   

“The Taskforce was established by the Australian Government in June to monitor the ongoing activities of Telstra and prevent exposure to asbestos.”

Meaning: The task force won’t prevent exposure to asbestos.  The disturbance is guaranteed to occur because of the project design.  The task force might help “manage” the exposure but it will not be prevented.  That could have only occurred with better project planning of the NBN.

“Minister for Workplace Relations Bill Shorten said “asbestos is a cruel, indiscriminate killer and because of its widespread use over much of the 20th century, it remains a persistent threat to Australians”.”

Meaning: Cruel, agreed, although it implies that asbestos has a mind of its own where really its devastating effects are down to what is done with it – which is a radical failure at present of the government’s making.

Meaning: Indiscriminate?  No.  Definitely not.  Asbestos exposure in this case is not indiscriminate.  It was planned.  It will affect people who are exposed.  The government has deliberately designed the NBN in such a way that EVERY duct and pit made of asbestos (a substantial proportion) will be disturbed.

This will expose telecommunications workers, the surrounding public and all the places where the contaminated disused cable is taken.

Meaning: Persistent threat? The asbestos in this case was basically not a threat at all.  Not until it was disturbed.  It was safe.  Now it is a persistent threat.  Where will it go?  The big bits will go to massive asbestos dumps somewhere.  However the smaller fragments will just be spread around.  A particular concern is the contaminated cable.  No one will track where it goes.   Road transport workers will be exposed.  Dock workers will be exposed when it is exported.  Anyone working at a cable recycling plant either here in Australia or overseas will have no idea whether what they are dealing with (and chopping into small pieces) is asbestos contaminated or not.  After all, its not even a visible fiber.

“The Government views the identification and safe removal of asbestos as an absolute priority.”

Meaning: The government has unnecessarily and with bad planning and no foresight organized what is possibly Australia’s largest disturbance and exposure to asbestos.

“I welcome the progress made by the taskforce to put in place measures to reduce exposure,” Minister Shorten said.

Meaning: The task force will result in no reduction in exposure.  That would only come through redesign that avoided the disturbance.  There has been a radical misunderstanding of hazard management and it is continuing. 

“Telstra and NBN Co have worked with the Taskforce to enhance industry asbestos training packages. Asbestos awareness training is being rolled out to Telstra employees. All employees, contractors and subcontractors working in Telstra pits will be trained in safe removal and handling of asbestos-containing materials.”

Meaning: The project architects (the Australian government) can do what they like and it will be all fixed by training.  This is not right.  It does not address the fundamental project design flaws.

“Telstra and NBN Co confirmed this week that they are finalising a competency card that employees, contractors and subcontractors will need to carry to certify they are fully trained.  Work on pits containing asbestos-containing materials will resume once that training has been completed.”

Meaning: A “card”.  That’s the protection.  The government has decided against responsible project design and gone with the paper card solution.

“The taskforce has met on five occasions, and is headed by Geoff Fary (Chair, Asbestos Management Review). Its membership includes representatives from Telstra, NBN Co., the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), Comcare, industry unions, asbestos community support groups and work, health and safety experts.  The Government established the first National Asbestos Exposure Register to capture the details of members of the community who think they may have been exposed to asbestos containing materials.”

Meaning: Instead of preventing the disturbance the government is going to count up some of the people unnecessarily exposed.  Those that aren’t protected by the “card”. 

This really has become very sad and beyond bizarre.

RIMG0529 (400 x 300)

More articles on NBN asbestos:

Will the new Australian export be asbestos?

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

NBN Asbestos: did the government follow its own planning risk assessment guide?

Fake government outrage over NBN asbestos

NBN asbestos raised in the Australian Senate two years ago (May 2011)

NBN asbestos known from the start

What is the NBN going to do with tonnes of asbestos?

Can the government walk the walk on asbestos plan?

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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1 Response to The “card” will protect you: deciphering asbestos propaganda

  1. Pingback: Three layers of cheese: the new hierarchy of control | safedesign

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