In November of 2017, Sydney broadcaster Ray Hadley exposed the significant failings of the Blue Mountains City Council over its failures to correctly address the presence of asbestos-containing material across a number of sites within the jurisdiction of the council.
At one of the sites, council staff were instructed to complete excavation work at the site of the Lawson Mechanic’s Institute, when the council allegedly knew it contained asbestos. The council responded that “a person or persons are actively engaged” in framing the council and that the asbestos had been planted.
As of yesterday, Blue Mountains City Council has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with SafeWork NSW, over “eight breaches of the asbestos provisions of the Work Health and Safety Regulation” act.
Under the EU, Blue Mountains City Council has made legally binding commitments to SafeWork NSW – among them, the Council has agreed to implement strategies to benefit the workplace of council workers, local government and the community.
The five work health and safety strategies to be delivered by the Council are:
• Providing communications technology to field teams – to allow employees to electronically access registers, records, policies and safe operating procedures and to complete and submit forms such as risk assessments, hazard reports and incident reports.
• Implementing workplace training – including online workplace training programs about asbestos awareness, Workplace Health and Safety and fair and just culture.
• Implementing a People at Work Survey across the Council’s workforce – based on the model made available by the Queensland Government.
• Delivering an asbestos management toolkit for NSW councils – to integrate into their own workplace systems and procedures, and
• Delivering a Public Education Campaign – addressing and providing guidance on the appropriate disposal of household and business waste, including general solid waste and bulky waste and the correct and safe disposal of asbestos and hazardous substance waste.
Essentially, the EU is SafeWork NSW taking legal action over the mismanagement of the asbestos-containing material. It is alleged that the asbestos-containing material from the initial site was moved to a second site (the Mechanics Institute), but council has denied that it was their doing, and was put there to frame the council.
In May 2019, SafeWork commenced proceedings against the Council in the Local Court of New South Wales, alleging eight breaches of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 in relation to the sites.
The charges against the Blue Mountains City Council include: failing to prepare an asbestos register at a workplace, failing to ensure that a written asbestos management plan was prepared, failure to determine whether a sample contained asbestos materials or whether asbestos-containing material was present, and failing to ensure that workers engaged in asbestos-related work were trained with the correct identification procedures for suitable control of the ACM.
The four additional charges are not yet public knowledge, but Blue Mountains City Council General Manager Rosemary Dillion approved a press release yesterday, claiming that the council “worked tirelessly to address all asbestos management issues.”