Blue Mountains Council not complying on asbestos says SafeWork NSW

Council has been plagued by allegations of poor asbestos management and has now been issued with notices by SafeWork NSW. They were recently cleared by Airsafe over claims some council vehicles may have asbestos issues.
Council has been plagued by allegations of poor asbestos management and has now been issued with notices by SafeWork NSW. They were recently cleared by Airsafe over claims some council vehicles may have asbestos issues.

The state’s work, health and safety regulator has issued 11 notices to Blue Mountains City Council since their asbestos management plan was completed, determining council is not complying with their asbestos management.

A SafeWork NSW spokesman said since they directed council to develop a council-wide asbestos management plan in June “SafeWork NSW has taken compliance action against council, issuing 11 notices in relation to asbestos management at council sites”.

“SafeWork NSW continues to engage with BMCC to ensure its workplaces comply [with] work health and safety laws.”

Meanwhile after a mass meeting of 200 United Services Union members with council on Monday, the USU has issued motions to council management requesting seven staff be immediately stood down during council’s investigations of their asbestos management at the Lawson depot site. 

The USU has asked acting general manager, Rosemary Dillon to hold a mass meeting so “staff can ask why management knowingly placed the staff in areas containing asbestos without informing them”.

​Ms Dillon issued a statement on Monday defending council’s investigations into asbestos and recruitment as “not secret” but said “council is not a court or a prosecutor. These investigations are not public hearings”.

The council investigation is expected to start this week.

Ms Dillon said the investigation will be conducted within the legal framework provided by the Local Government Act, 1993 and would be “comprehensive and completed as quickly as possible noting the investigation relating to asbestos management will take some time”. 

“For that reason the investigator will initially investigate and report on the stockpile material at the Lawson depot site and on the former Blackheath tip. The investigator will then review and report on other allegations made in relation to other council-owned properties and in relation to the council's policies and procedures.”

Ms Dillon said “the investigations have been initiated by BMCC to ensure that all of the allegations made against the council are thoroughly and appropriately addressed in the investigator's report. The investigations will allow us to get to the truth of the matters, help us resolve any issues and maintain community confidence.” 

The investigator will have full access to all council documents, as and when required, and will be free to nominate any council staff that they wish to interview.

Meanwhile Cr Kerry Brown continues to agitate at council to request copies of the terms of reference for the two investigations.

”​Following a refusal from the executive officer, I have now written to the acting general manager requesting copies of the terms of reference for the two investigations.

“As long as councillors are denied copies of the terms of reference, the investigations are secret. We are the governing body to whom the findings are to be presented for consideration and legal advice. Yet only the mayor knows what is being investigated, and how it is being investigated.”

But Mayor Mark Greenhill said he has “the same access to the inquiries as all other councillors. No more and no less”.

"All councillors have seen and discussed the terms of reference. All councillors have the same access to information and to the work that is being done.

"This needs to be a full, open, honest and independent assessment of exactly what has been happening,” the mayor added.

For both investigations the investigators will make findings of fact and identify whether there appear to have been any breaches of the council's code of conduct or of the council's operating procedures in relation to asbestos management and recruitment; identify any deficiencies in the council's policies and procedures in relation to asbestos management and recruitment; and make recommendations concerning any changes to those policies and procedures that the investigator considers the council should make.

All employees with information relevant to the investigation are encouraged to provide that information to the investigators, Ms Dillon said. 

“The opportunity to provide information to the investigator on a confidential basis will be given.  If the investigators identify matters which they consider should be reviewed, but which do not fall within the current scope of the investigation, then that scope will be broadened to include those matters.”

The council will receive and consider the investigators' reports. It will be recommended that the council make a report publicly available with appropriate consideration given to possible legal action. The council will also consider whether any matters identified by the investigators should be referred to the Office of Local Government or to the ICAC.

Pending the outcome of the investigation the council will act to safeguard the health and welfare of its employees. Council will continue to manage any identified asbestos containing material in accordance with its Asbestos Management Plan and procedures and take the necessary steps to address the issue and minimize risk as a priority.

Ms Dillion said the council will talking with staff and the union and would “maintain its focus on delivering services during this process”.