Telstra announces requirements for contractors around asbestos handling

Media Release, 03 July 2013

Telstra today announced a number of requirements for its three key NBN rollout contractors in relation to asbestos handling for pit remediation.

The announcement comes as a result of findings from Telstra’s preliminary review which focused on subcontractor management, as well as information gained from key stakeholders. It followed incidents brought to Telstra’s attention of possible non-compliance by its contractors with asbestos handling guidelines.

Telstra identified that each key contractor has specific areas for improvement in their processes to manage subcontractors. Contractors have been advised that the relevant improvements are mandatory before any return to work. Telstra expects its contractors to comply with their agreements otherwise they will not remain key suppliers to Telstra.

Telstra has required its key contractors to take the following actions –

  • Strengthen field supervision staffing and oversight of sub-contractor staff.
  • Address gaps in induction procedures for new staff. Some contractors were found to have participated only in basic asbestos awareness and competency training.
  • Disclose sub-contractor procedures to Telstra to ensure safe asbestos handling and removal can occur.
  • Ensure all contractor and subcontractor staff complete mandatory training in asbestos management.
  • Work with Telstra to reinforce the required standards for subcontractors’ field team supplies, ensuring all field staff carry adequate supplies for safe asbestos handling including signage, barricades, suits, masks, ground cover, removal bags, water supplies and recording equipment.
  • Work with Telstra to strengthen community engagement in remediation areas. Telstra has committed to working with NBN Co to create standard community engagement procedures and documentation.

Telstra’s Chief Operations Officer, Brendon Riley said: “The preliminary review and other information we have gained, has shown there are important areas for improvement among contractors. Prior to allowing recommencement of works, we are requiring our contractors make changes to ensure they comply with their contractual commitments.

“The review supports our decision, announced in late May, to implement a number of measures including increased oversight of our contractors.

“We are recruiting additional inspectors and quality specialists. We expect the number of inspectors and quality specialists to reach up to 200 as the NBN volumes increase. These specialists will be critical in inspecting and supervising asbestos-related remediation work by contractors and their sub-contractors.

“We are working closely with Comcare and other stakeholders to strengthen mandatory training and field inspection for contractors and subcontractors. Anyone working as a contractor or sub-contractor for Telstra will be required to undertake this retraining before commencing any remediation work on the cement pits.

“We will continue to be open about the status of these issues and the work we are doing to strengthen contractor management of asbestos handling. We will not allow recommencement of cement pit remediation work until we are satisfied the necessary safety measures are in place.”

Telstra has established a hotline for any resident concerned about work in their area. The number is 1800 067 225.

Update of actions to be undertaken

Issue: Each key contractor was found to have specific areas for improvement, requiring changes.
Action: Contractors have been instructed to work on addressing these areas and they have been notified that improvements are mandatory for them to resume work under their contracts.

Issue: Overall field supervision by the contractors of their teams and their subcontractors was not sufficient in all cases.
Action: All contractors will be required to strengthen their field supervision staffing and oversight. Telstra has already announced that it will appoint up to 200 additional staff to drive more intensive field supervision. The Telstra team will work collaboratively with the contractor supervision teams. Telstra will also work closely with Comcare and other stakeholders who have raised concerns about adequacy of contractor supervision more generally.

Issue: While contractors participated in basic asbestos awareness and competency training, there were gaps in contractor training records for their subcontractor staff.
Action: Telstra has announced plans to ensure mandatory standards are met for training contractors and sub-contractors as well as internal staff, ensuring rigorous and consistent standards will apply to all training content and delivery, employee induction, testing, certification and record keeping. Telstra is consulting with unions and Comcare on training and will seek independent expert review of training content.

Issue: Concerns that contractor or sub-contractor field staff may not have had adequate supplies on all occasions.
Action: Telstra is working with contractors to reinforce standards in relation to supplies for relevant field teams, with appropriate documentation, oversight and checking. Work will not commence until requirements are met.

Issue: Concerns there may be issues in relation to the adequacy of training, supervision and provision of safety equipment within the sub-contractor chain.
Action: Telstra is reviewing each key contractor’s sub-contractor supply chain to ensure full visibility of safety arrangements.

Community engagement needs to be strengthened across the board.
Action: The great majority of asbestos pit remediation and handling is being undertaken as a result of the NBN project. Telstra is committed to working with NBN Co to create a set of standard community engagement procedures. Increased community engagement specifically relates to the scheduling of activity, disclosure of locations, transparency on procedures and clear lines of communication to handle public issues.

Telstra will continue to operate its hotline number on 1800 067 225. Telstra is committed to resolving issues raised through the hotline.