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Tuesday, 7 February 2006
Page: 184

Mr Andren asked the Minister representing the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, in writing, on 15 September 2005:

(1)   How much asbestos has been purchased by Telstra from James Hardies Industries and how much has been used.

(2)   How many of Telstra’s underground installations and exchanges contain asbestos or products manufactured from asbestos.

(3)   How frequently do Telstra employees or contractors come into contact with asbestos in the course of carrying out maintenance in exchanges or underground installations.

(4)   What safety procedures are in place to protect Telstra’s employees and contractors against exposure to asbestos in the course of carrying out maintenance in exchanges or underground installations.

(5)   How many cases of asbestosis amongst current and former Telstra employees and contractors have been reported to date.

Mr McGauran (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts has provided the following answer, based on advice provided by Telstra, to the honourable member’s question:

(1)   Telstra and its predecessors, Post Master General and Telecom, have not purchased any asbestos from James Hardies Industries since approximately 1986. Telstra’s predecessors purchased cement pits and pipes containing asbestos (approximately 5-15% asbestos content depending on the type of product) from Hardies from about 1955 until about 1986 when these products were replaced with plastic alternatives. This material was purchased by government tender and Telstra is unable to provide details of the exact quantities purchased or used. Telstra has also noted that it is also likely that the vehicles used by Telstra’s predecessors contained asbestos friction products or brake linings purchased from Hardie Ferodo and Better Brakes, which was part of the James Hardie group of companies, as these were available in the public domain.

(2)   The Telstra network still contains pits made of cement with some asbestos content. These pits and pipes are comprised of asbestos cement with the pits containing approximately 5-15% asbestos bonded in a cement and silica matrix and the pipes containing 15% asbestos bonded in a cement and silica matrix. As this asbestos is bound to the cement and in low concentrations it does not present a hazard, unless friable (where the fibres become loose and airborne). In the case of pits and pipes, (as they are bound in a cement matrix) the asbestos fibres are not likely to become friable unless ground by a powered machine such as an electric grinder. Where exchange buildings contain in situ asbestos, these are documented and managed as per the processes outlined in the response to part (4). This is similar to other public and private buildings where in situ asbestos is present.

(3)   Telstra employees and contractors will come into contact from time to time with material containing asbestos during maintenance of underground installations or buildings. All contact is regulated by the asbestos management processes referred to in the response to part (4).

(4)   Telstra is required to - and does - comply with requirements of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) Code of Practice on Asbestos. Compliance is enforced by the Safety and Rehabilitation Commission (SRC) through its operational arm Comcare Australia. Briefly, the processes for the management of asbestos in Telstra involves:

  • The maintenance of an Asbestos Register at all exchanges that have asbestos;
  • All pits and pipes which are not plastic are treated as containing asbestos;
  • The regular inspection, maintenance or removal (if necessary) of the asbestos;
  • All employees and contractors to observe strict guidelines for working in proximity to, handling or disposing of asbestos (eg. appropriate training and personal protective clothing such as gloves, respirators and disposal clothing are provided to carry out this work); and
  • Final disposal to be managed by licensed asbestos removal contractors.

   All other contractors are also required to provide evidence of compliance with the relevant State and Federal occupational health and safety legislation and contractors meet regularly with Telstra to review compliance with this legislation.

   (5)   Telstra has kept detailed records as to all asbestos related claims nationally from 2000. Since that time there have been 10 claims where asbestosis was alleged to have developed from exposure to asbestos during the employ of Telstra’s predecessors.