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The possible presence of asbestos was identified on 24 July during the construction of an accessibility tunnel alongside the Joan Sutherland Theatre, where 25 employees of electrical contractor Downer had been working.
According to the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), Downer and construction firm Laing O'Rourke, which was awarded the renewal contract last September, had failed to notify regulator SafeWork NSW when the substance tested positive two days later.
The union later found that almost all electricians working on the renovation had not received asbestos awareness training. It advised members working on the site to halt all activities on electrical service ducts, troffers and penetrations until further notice and called for new risk assessments to be undertaken, as well as improved training and personal protective equipment for workers.
A spokesperson for the Opera House told Australian Associated Press that the independent investigation would look into whether the building's hazardous materials safety procedures were being followed.
She also confirmed that the asbestos had been removed and Laing O'Rourke had obtained a safety clearance certificate, but acknowledged that several of Laing O'Rourke's unionised subcontractors had downed tools.
Construction union CFMEU said the dispute had "escalated" today (3 August) after an independent industrial hygienist, selected by workers on the project's safety committee to inspect work practices and training, was refused access to the site by Laing O'Rourke.
ETU NSW assistant secretary Justin Page said it was "absolutely shocking" that the company had failed to implement proper safety precautions despite the foreseeable risk that "a building of the Opera House's age would contain asbestos".
The country's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency said the incident has highlighted the need for an "urgent national programme" to remove asbestos in buildings.
The agency's CEO Peter Tighe said: "The regulations to protect people working in buildings require an asbestos register, a management plan, appraisal of areas where asbestos is identified, and removal of high risk asbestos before workers go in. There is clearly a breakdown of the system and it has failed in the duty of care for workers at the Sydney Opera House.
"We really need to move from management of asbestos to a proactive programme of removing high-risk asbestos from Australian buildings."
Falls from height are still the number one cause of workplace injuries and fatalities, which explains why the powered access industry has thrived in the past 35 years as employers and contractors increasingly switch on to the specialised equipment available.
June, July and August are sweltering months in the State of Qatar; daytime temperatures reach the mid-forties Celsius. For the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers on construction sites across its capital Doha, the extreme heat and humidity are major occupational health risks.
Unusually among the leaders interviewed for this magazine, Derran Williams CMIOSH has no one reporting to him. Yet he is responsible for overseeing the safety and health of hundreds of thousands of workers in massive infrastructure projects from road schemes to power stations across eastern Europe and beyond.As associate director and senior health and safety adviser at the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Williams has to verify that the standards of protection are acceptable on the schemes the bank funds.
The dishonest practices started in 2010 when the Costain/Laing O’Rourke joint venture CoLOR was carrying out upgrade works to the Thameslink ticket hall at Farringdon station. At the heart of the corruption was Innocent Obeikwe, a senior manager at CoLOR responsible for the project’s safety and health procedures.
A workman identified suspect asbestos-containing materials on 24 July 2012 when he removed part of a suspended ceiling at St Mary’s School in Waltham Forest. Asbestos fibres were subsequently found in several areas of the primary school.The London Borough of Waltham Forest had a contract with NPS London to manage the development and refurbishment of its estate, Southwark Crown Court was told. NPS appointed Mansell Construction Services (now Balfour Beatty) as the principal contractor for the work, which subcontracted Squibb Group for the asbestos removal.
The study, published in the Journal for Environmental and Public Health, draws on almost 1,400 international scientific reports and papers that indicate performing shared activities at work can create positive social atmospheres that help staff feel happier. Though the activities do not have to be “big or complex”, the review found, researchers said they should occur more than once, a for example three one-hour workshops, and involve all employees.