Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Asbestos workers at Roberts St today

An asbestos worker at Roberts Street, with a ladder clearly visible to the right, on the balcony of the flats.
Asbestos removal at the Roberts Street Northcote public housing estate was proceeding this morning despite windy conditions on a day of predicted very high winds in Melbourne.

Men in protective asbestos masks and clothing were clearly visible from the High Street frontage of the estate, and were spoken to on film about proceeding with the works given the conditions.

Ed David, Director of Asset Management and Property Services with the Office of Housing (9096 5331), advised by phone that the works were taking place inside the flats, but the sounds of levering and hammering were clearly audible, and the photo clearly shows a ladder set up on the front balcony (facing High Street).

An asbestos dust hazard tape was also clearly visible around the site, providing a very narrow margin particularly on the High Street frontage, where pedestrians were walking.

WorkSafe and the Office of Housing were this morning both notified of the works starting, but Housing, which is administering the works, had earlier been advised by a resident email of the inappropriateness of starting works today given the predicted high winds.

An asbestos control plan for the site, promised to be published online at 8.00am this morning, was published hours after the commencement of the works, with the site noting the plan had been submitted to WorkSafe Victoria. Interestingly, the control plan was signed on 20 March, more than a week before the Office of Housing advised at a public meeting that it could not yet be made available because it was not yet in its 'final form'.

A quick look at the document reveals that it is a tick-the-box affair of only three pages – hardly the anticipated reassurance that asbestos issues identified in the audit are being adequately addressed.

As noted in previous posts, there is widespread public concern that these works are proceeding before valid community concerns about asbestos have been answered.

The start of the works follows the required notification to WorkSafe on Friday, and a public meeting in the neighbouring park convened by the Office of Housing and Northcote MP Fiona Richardson (9481 5777) at 6.00pm the same day. The works follow by only days what was the first government public meeting on this issue, despite the fact that the presence of asbestos has been known since at least mid-October 2007, when Housing had an asbestos audit performed.

Richardson and housing minister Richard Wynne (9096 7722) have also been notified by phone and email that the works are taking place today in windy conditions, and have been asked to pursue the matter.

Asbestos workers at Roberts Street today
The circumstances observed today at Roberts Street are concerning and at the very least call for some prompt answers from the relevant authorities. Responses received from Richardson, Wynne, WorkSafe and the Office of Housing will be reported here.

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