The discovery of asbestos in a major Sydney infrastructure project has alarmed workers and union officials, who have questioned the methods of the consortium building the project.
The Sydney Metro North West site at Tallawong Road, Schofields was shut down shortly before midday on Thursday for the second time this week after asbestos was discovered in an area where heavy machinery had been operating for more than a year. Workers were sent back to work on the site on Friday.
Electrical Trades Union New South Wales secretary Dave McKinley said the fact that the material was detected long after work had commenced was evidence that the company had not properly surveyed the site before commencing.
“Any form of asbestos is deadly – let me make that perfectly clear,” he said. “Given that there has been heavy machinery operating in the nearby area, it’s hard to see how it would not have become loose and airborne.
“We are concerned that more than 100 workers have been exposed to this material. We are also concerned that visitors to the Buddhist Temple that backs onto the site and local residents could be at risk.”
Union officials have been unable to locate the hazardous materials register for the site, which head contractor NRT Project – a consortium of John Holland, Cimic, Leightons and UGL – are required by law to maintain.
“It appears that the people in charge of this project put budgets and timelines ahead of human lives,” he said. “We want to know why this material wasn’t detected in pre-work surveys and where the register of hazardous materials that it should appear on has gone.”
Mr McKinley said he wanted an explanation of why workers were sent back to affected areas after the initial discovery, and demanded an agreed independent hygienist survey all Sydney Metro North West sites to determine their safety. He also demanded lung capacity testing for people working in affected areas, air quality testing for surrounding neighbourhoods and asbestos awareness training for all workers on the project.
Finally, Mr McKinley said that anyone exposed, working on the project or living in the area who risked exposure should be added to the national asbestos exposure register.