JOB SITE: RoadTek workers were exposed to asbestos for four months at a Ripley site.
JOB SITE: RoadTek workers were exposed to asbestos for four months at a Ripley site. David Nielsen

Workers, DTMR at odds over response to asbestos exposure

A STATE government department found guilty of exposing workers to asbestos at a Ripley job site claims workers were offered extensive support following the exposure. 

Department of Main Roads RoadTek employees worked on a bridge site at Ripley for four months in 2012 before it was discovered the bridge, built more than 20 years ago, was riddled with asbestos and the fibres were already spread across the site.

More than six workers were given power tools and air grinders to demolish the bridge after a truck smashed into it in January 2012.

The department was convicted at trial in June of failing to comply with health and safety duty and fined $175,000 in Ipswich Magistrates Court on Monday.

The maximum penalty for the offence is $1.5 million.

A Department of Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said the department had sought to consult with workers, independent specialists and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland to make sure work practices were effective and that opportunities for improvement were identified and implemented.

"We have worked over the five years since the incident to address the failures that occurred and to prevent similar incidents," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the department provided support to the workers following the incident including providing information sessions delivered by TMR management representatives, an occupational physician, and an occupational hygienist, for workers (permanent, labour hire and contractors) and their families, which included an offer of testing for work and personal vehicles, clothing, equipment and residences among other services. 

Gary McDonaugh was one of the workers exposed to asbestos at the site and he said he did not receive any support and did not have his car or home cleaned after the exposure.

"It's not good when you work for them for 19 years and this is the way you get treated," Mr McDonaugh said.

"Nobody has ever come and approached me about it. They rung about my car - the day they were supposed to clean it, they said they could not fit me in so I did it myself.

"We've got grandchildren that have come to my house and travelled in my car. It's always on my mind."

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance's Emily Walsh said "there was no safe level of asbestos exposure."

"When asbestos fibers are broken up they can be released into the air in the form of microscopic particles. If they are ingested, they can become trapped in the body and lead to mesothelioma cancer," she said.

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance provides online resources on the dangers of asbestos exposure which can lead to mesothelioma cancer. MCA promote causes such as Mesothelioma Awareness Day and the effort to ban asbestos in products worldwide. The site provides information on asbestos, dangers of exposure, as well as support for mesothelioma patients, their families and the general public.  


>>'Living in fear': Workers angry over asbestos safety breach

TMR maintains extensive support services were offered to employees and their families including:

  • Employee assistance support offered to workers (permanent, labour hire and contractors) and their families
  • Testing for the presence of asbestos conducted at site officers, site facilities, equipment, work and private vehicles, residences, and personal belongings
  • Professional cleaning and re-testing for sites and items where a positive sample test was identified
  • Provision of transport for staff inconvenienced by vehicle testing and cleaning
  • Replacement of clothing, equipment, furniture and other items upon request where potential exposure to asbestos was identified, and
  • Offers of medical appointments and assessments with a certified occupational medical specialist to all staff, labour hire, contractor personnel and their families potentially exposed as a result of the incident.

 TMR has made improvements to the way in which asbestos infrastructure was managed across the state, which included:

  • The implementation of an Asbestos Management Framework setting out clear roles and responsibilities
  • The identification of all bridge structures across the state that are likely to contain asbestos
  • The implementation of a central asbestos register for storing information about buildings and structures that are confirmed or suspected to contain asbestos
  • The development of an asbestos general awareness course, delivered face-to-face and electronically, and
  • The recruitment of a specialist advisor (Asbestos) for TMR to improve operational capability to safely manage and respond to asbestos-related activities
  • Delivery of a series of two-day workshops with about 200 electrical and civil maintenance workers undertaken competency-based training in asbestos removal and reviewing our safe work method statements
  • Implementation of revised safe work method statements following consultation with workers, specialist consultants and WHSQ

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