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Electricians again walk off $200m Opera House renovation over safety fears followings asbestos tests

Paul Lister - Friday, October 06, 2017

Electrical workers this morning stopped work on the $200 million renovation of the Sydney Opera House, refusing to continue with the installation of cabling through the iconic building after receiving confirmation that potentially-deadly friable asbestos had again been located in work areas.

Scientific testing of samples collected yesterday were this morning confirmed to contain friable asbestos, sparking a meeting of electrical workers where they decided to walk off the job immediately until the serious safety issue was resolved.

The incident is the second time in two months that asbestos concerns have halted renovation works on the iconic building, with the Electrical Trades Union demanding the safety regulator and NSW Government intervene to ensure the issue is resolved.

“This issue was first identified two months ago, with SafeWork NSW giving builder Laing O'Rourke a weak slap on the wrist. The company had seven days to remove the asbestos or eliminate the threat to workers through appropriate safety measures and have clearly failed to do so,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.

“Electricians yesterday raised the alarm that they were again being exposed to loose asbestos fibres, which has now been confirmed by scientific testing.

“Two months after this major safety issue was uncovered, and the builder was ordered to rectify it by the safety regulator, we have again seen workers exposed to these carcinogenic fibres.”

Mr McKinley said the union was demanding the NSW Minister for Better Regulation, Matt Keen, immediately launch an investigation as to why SafeWork NSW refuses to impose a prohibition notice on Laing O'Rourke, which would prevent any construction work from taking place in the contaminated areas until the asbestos was isolated and removed by specialist contractors.

“It is completely unacceptable that workers, performers and the general public continue to be exposed to a toxic substance at this iconic building, particularly as the builder is receiving $200 million from taxpayers to carry out the renovations,” he said.

“Electricians have made a decision to put their safety first, despite the fact that Laing O'Rourke previously threatened to have them prosecuted in the Fair Work Commission after accusing them of taking unlawful industrial action when they last stopped work over asbestos concerns.

“It’s pretty clear the system is broken when workers are threatened with legal action for refusing to expose themselves to a deadly substance like asbestos, yet the safety regulator seems unwilling to ensure the builder is abiding by workplace health and safety laws.

“The NSW Government need to get off their backsides, take responsibility for this serious issue, and ensure that all asbestos is removed from the Opera House.”