Telstra welcomes Federal Government initiatives on asbestos

Media Release, 03 June 2013

Telstra said today that it shared the Federal Government’s focus on reducing public risk from asbestos and outlined initiatives which supported such objectives.

Telstra CEO David Thodey, Chief Operations Officer Brendon Riley and other executives met Federal Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, union, NBN Co and Departmental representatives in Canberra to discuss this national issue.

Mr Thodey said the meeting had been productive and highlighted cooperative efforts among the various organisations to priortise the safety of employees, contractors and members of the public.

Telstra requires its employees and contractors to follow stringent procedures for asbestos handling and last week announced a range of operational improvements in response to incidents involving Telstra contractors during pit remediation works.

“As we announced last week, Telstra is taking strong actions in the field including reviewing processes so our employees, contractors and the public are given confidence that asbestos is being handled with care and safety in mind,” Mr Thodey said.

“We already have practices, processes and checks in place for our employees when they come into contact with asbestos in our network. However, we are reinforcing the requirements for contractors to comply with our standards, with their safety and broader public safety in mind.”

Telstra noted important initiatives related to items covered at today’s meeting including -

  • Site inspections: Telstra’s newly announced field force of up to 200 specialists will work with the Office of Asbestos Safety, Comcare, State and Territory work health and safety regulators and local governments to implement a site inspection program.
  • Register: Telstra supports a national public health register for people to register potential exposure to asbestos and will help publicise the register as part of community consultations on network remediation.
  • Community engagement: Telstra will engage with local residents and work to accelerate the clean up of any site for which there remains a concern.
  • Prioritised removal: Telstra will assess the extent to which it can prioritise the removal of pits containing asbestos as part of the NBN rollout.

Telstra already has processes for managing claims of any type from employees and the public to ensure that such claims are handled sensitively and expeditiously. Telstra handles asbestos claims on a case by case basis and claims are met from general operating costs.

In March, the Federal Government introduced legislation into the Parliament to create the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. Telstra intends to work closely with the agency as it goes about its task of protecting workers and the public from possible exposure to asbestos.

Telstra’s actions to date include –

  • Up to 200 additional inspection and supervisory jobs will be created to ensure all asbestos-related remediation activity is supervised by an accredited person. Advertising and internal selection for these roles has commenced.
  • Telstra will reinforce its high compliance standards with all relevant field employees working with asbestos. This will include every manager reminding their staff about the safety measures that need to be adhered to.
  • The temporary stop work on pit remediation will stay in place for contractors (and sub-contractors) until they have completed further training on working with, removing, transporting and disposing of asbestos containing material.
  • Telstra will work with Comcare and an accredited training partner to review and update the mandatory training program that all Telstra contractors will need to implement before they are approved to work on Telstra pits.
  • Stronger community engagement guidelines to ensure the community is better informed about work in their areas, including longer notification periods, more intensive doorknocking and letterbox drops and improved signage at worksites alerting residents to asbestos-related works.
  • Appointment of John Gibbs, Executive Director Network Construction, to oversee all asbestos management activities in Telstra.
  • Appointment of PriceWaterhouseCoopers as independent advisers.

Mr Thodey said the Board of Directors would continue to be kept informed on the way these issues are being managed and key developments on the ground.

Any resident concerned about work in their area should contact Telstra on a dedicated hotline number at 1800 067 225.