Monday, January 21, 2013

Satellite dish installation disturbed asbestos

(The Australian) More than half of all contractors installing satellite dishes under the federal government's digital TV rollout are unaware of how to report major problems such as asbestos disturbance, an investigation has found.

The study, by Ernst & Young, also found that at one-third of the installation sites it visited, contractors were unable to adequately manage risks such as wearing required protective clothing.

The federal Department of Communications commissioned the review into the Satellite Subsidy Scheme in Queensland in late 2011, after revelations poorly trained contractors had disturbed asbestos in more than 20 government-owned homes in that state.

Ernst & Young visited 169 "live sites" - sites where installations were currently occurring across Queensland. The two contractors completing the work were Skybridge and Hills Industries subsidiary Techlife.

"The results show significant non-compliance in the management of risks, awareness of the incident reporting process and demonstrating the appropriate (safety) culture," the report found.

"A number of non-compliances were also noted for (safety) training and risk assessment."

Despite the problems, the study noted a "significant decrease" in the number of serious concerns in Queensland compared with rollouts in Victoria.

In one incident in Queensland, Ernst & Young found a contractor had drilled though plaster without knowing whether or not it was asbestos and did not wear protective attire such as a mask.

It said the contractor had subsequently been suspended.

The Ernst & Young report was handed to the government in May. The department has not explained why it has taken so long to release it, except to say it had been conducting "follow-up work".

It also inspected 1103 private homes in regional Queensland where installations occurred. That inspection revealed 20 possible cases of asbestos disturbance.

"Of these, nine were found to contain asbestos and full remediation has occurred," the Department of Communications said.

Concerns have been raised that asbestos may have been disturbed in areas where inspections have not occurred, with residents unaware of the problem.

In late 2011, the government cracked down on contractors and ordered retraining in asbestos handling.

By that time, Skybridge and Techlife had installed satellite dishes in 5149 households in regional areas in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.

A spokesman for Skybridge declined to comment while Techlife could not be contacted.

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