Queensland school site of ‘disturbing reports’ of asbestos exposure

Queensland school site of ‘disturbing reports’ of asbestos exposure

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland is investigating a suspected incident of asbestos exposure at a Brisbane high school, which included a delay in informing parents of the contamination.

In October of last year, builders disturbed an area of Sunnybank State High School, which was known to contain asbestos during the installation of air conditioning. 

Seven weeks after the incident, four buildings at the school were closed over the contamination and parents of students informed. Early reports heard that teachers were able to write in the dusk that had settled on student’s desks, unaware that it could have been ACM.

“A contractor may have penetrated the ceiling and walls, known to contain asbestos in Block 4,” the letter sent to parents last year said.

“I can advise that the contractor has also undertaken work in other areas of the school, so in the interests of safety, the contractor has been directed to cease all work immediately pending further investigations.” 

The Queensland Department of Education confirmed that it appointed a physician to manage any risks to staff and students. 

It’s understood that the contractor has been suspended and stood aside from further completing work as part of a state-wide rollout of new air-conditioning in Queensland schools.

Teachers’ Professional Association of Queensland (TPAQ) state secretary Jack McGuire said that they were aware of reports of teachers writing in the dust, and have called for an investigation by the Education Minister.

“Members have told of senior management using intimidation to try and cover up the fact that students and teachers had been working amongst asbestos dust,” he said.

“The cover-up is almost always worse than the problem. 

“Minister Grace must launch an investigation into how this could happen and the Department’s subsequent response.”

“Teachers who are impacted are urged to come forward to the TPAQ so that they can assist them industrially,” he said.

It is understood that WHS Queensland launched an investigation into the site after a member of the public lodged a complaint. 

The Department of Education says that ‘within an hour’ of receiving notification of the incident, they sent an asbestos remediation crew to the site. The department has not responded as to why the contaminated area of the school wasn’t closed for seven weeks. 

According to a department spokesperson: “decontamination and remediation were completed in consultation with Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. 

“The classrooms were ready for use for the start of the 2021 school year.

“QBuild suspended the contractor and issued a show-cause notice. The contractor is no longer working on the air-conditioning program.”

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