Tuesday, April 8, 2008

WorkSafe yet to respond on asbestos video

WorkSafe, a division of the Victorian WorkCover Authority, is yet to respond to questions asked last week surrounding film of asbestos workers on a public housing redevelopment site on Wednesday 2 April, a day of extreme winds in Melbourne.

On that day, asbestos removal began at the derelict Roberts Street Northcote estate, with workers filmed on-site in full protective gear, including half-face respirators.

Following a report to WorkSafe's advisory line at about 9.30am, advice received from WorkSafe late in the afternoon indicated that a morning inspection sometime after the filming found that works were proceeding 'in accordance with regulations'. Worksafe also advised that regulations permitted asbestos removal inside on such days. Works did, however, finish around midday (earlier, according to one resident), with the watchdog saying this was likely because of the wind.

The as-yet-unanswered questions arise because the film of workers on-site on 2 April taken together with an earlier film of the estate cast doubt on whether asbestos removal inside actually meant inside units with smashed windows and, in at least one case, no window frame at all. What WorkSafe has so far failed to answer is whether any asbestos removal work on 2 April took place in units open to the outside extreme wind conditions in this way. Was this question even asked on the morning of its own inspection? Did it in fact order or advise that the works be stopped because of the wind?

Queries about the film were sent to a number of senior WorkSafe officers, including WorkSafe Executive Director, John Merritt. A written response was requested, given that WorkSafe was clearly aware of community concerns about asbestos safety with this project because it had attended a public meeting on 28 March in the adjacent park.

Since the minister for housing, Richard Wynne, the Office of Housing, and Northcote MP Fiona Richardson have all been touting the asbestos safety measures for the project, it is beholden on WorkSafe to hold the government to account and prove it is not a toothless tiger when it comes to asbestos safety. It should answer the questions posed by the two videos, and come clean about what questions were asked and what action was taken during its inspection on Wednesday 2 April at Roberts Street Northcote.

The films about asbestos at the Roberts Street estate are available at:


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