Telstra delays restart of NBN asbestos work

TELSTRA has been forced to delay the restart of work on the pits and pipes needed for the rollout of the NBN as it battles against the clock to get sub-contractors up to speed on the proper removal of asbestos.

On August 5, the telco announced work would recommence last Monday after a three-month halt brought on by the asbestos shutdown.

However, last night a Telstra spokeswoman said "we may be starting" today "in some places", although details were still being finalised.

The Australian has learned Telstra had to delay its Monday restart until it ran final checks on staff and contractors to ensure they had completed training in the safe removal of asbestos.

"When we spoke to contractors two weeks ago, they obviously needed to accommodate our increased requirements and that has simply taken a little longer than we anticipated," the Telstra spokeswoman said.

"We are talking a matter of days for some contractors and we will not rush safety."

The delay to the restart comes as residents in the northwestern Sydney suburb of Hornsby contacted The Australian to complain of pits that had been labelled as containing asbestos but carried no proper warnings.

David Cain, who found two Telstra pits with small warnings scrawled in black marker on their lids reading "Asbestos Pit Do Not Grind", was concerned the pits could put residents at risk.

"These asbestos pits have absolutely no warning signs. The public have been left unaware of the threat they pose," he said. "Along with my wife, we're very upset because I walked right over the top of the asbestos pit with our 13-month-old baby daughter. We dread the thought she could have got Telstra's asbestos on to her hands from the wheels of her pram."

Telstra denied the pits in question were a danger to the public. "It is important to note that the pit itself is underground and left undisturbed it would pose no risk," the Telstra spokeswoman said. "From the images provided, the lid also appears intact and none of our pit lids are made of asbestos-containing material."

Despite denying knowledge of how the lids came to be scrawled with the asbestos warnings, Telstra immediately sent out a team of technicians to inspect and cover the pits when contacted by The Australian. The spokeswoman said Telstra covered the pits because they were considered a tripping hazard.

The concerns about potential asbestos contamination have forced the NBN Co to modify its business plan and the latest development could put even further pressure on the release of the plan.

The NBN Co is modifying its business plan because reports of asbestos mishandling have put the rollout behind, reportedly by about three months.


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Posted Wednesday 21st August 2013

The Australian