Wentworth Falls Pre-school shut after SafeWork visit

The sign says Danger Asbestos: The pre-school remained closed on Friday.
The sign says Danger Asbestos: The pre-school remained closed on Friday.

Wentworth Falls Pre-school has been shut since Wednesday [November 29] after a SafeWork visit. 

The state’s work, health and safety regulator, SafeWork NSW, issued a prohibition notice to Blue Mountains City Council in relation to asbestos at the Day Street site owned by council.

Two SafeWork NSW inspectors visited the premises after media reports about asbestos safety issues. Their inspection revealed asbestos cement sheeting (fibro) in the roof of the covered entrance that was weathered and in poor condition.

SafeWork has been liaising with NSW Health to assist in providing health information to the parents and children at the pre-school.

SafeWork has also issued another 10 notices to the council since their asbestos management plan was completed, determining council is not complying with their asbestos management.

SafeWork NSW executive director Peter Dunphy said council is required to contract a licensed asbestos assessor to conduct a full and thorough inspection of the site. 

“The purpose [of the prohibition notice] is to identify and assess the condition of all asbestos-containing materials, and to put in place appropriate controls to safely manage those materials,” he said.

“The site will be closed while this assessment is carried out and the weathered asbestos-containing material at the entrance is safely removed.”

Mr Dunphy said when fibro or other bonded asbestos sheeting is broken, damaged or mishandled, fibres can become loose and airborne and may pose a potential risk to health.

“We believe the risk is likely to be low and the pre-school has been closed as a precaution; however, a full assessment is absolutely necessary to ensure any asbestos at the site is identified and managed appropriately,” he said.

We believe the risk is likely to be low and the pre-school has been closed as a precaution

SafeWork NSW

Mr Dunphy said council has a legal obligation to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that its workplaces and the workplace facilities it owns do not pose health or safety risks to workers or visitors.

“SafeWork takes all asbestos issues very seriously, and will continue to engage with Blue Mountains City Council about asbestos safety issues at Council facilities,” he said.

Blue Mountains City Council issued a statement on the day of the closure apologising for the disruption and said the asbestos would be “removed as a matter of priority”.

“This temporary closure is related to the management of asbestos containing material at the preschool, on the advice of SafeWork NSW.

“We sincerely apologise for the late notice, and the inconvenience and disruption that this will cause.

“Be assured we are attending to this as a matter of urgency, in consultation with SafeWork NSW, and will advise families as circumstances change.”

Management said the building had been cleared by an independent asbestos assessor, Airsafe earlier in November. Airsafe also cleared 33 council vehicles, which had been blackbanned by the United Services Union at the same time.

A parent, whose name we have withheld, said many parents were “concerned about not knowing what is wrong with the preschool”.

“It’s more about council and their management of it ... the kids safety and the lateness of the notice. There’s been no communication from council, it’s been left to the teachers.” Alternative family day care had been offered in Lawson, but the parent said council should have relocated the children to another building. 

Meanwhile Katoomba Tip on Woodlands Road is also closed as a precautionary measure “due to the identification of possible asbestos containing material in stockpiles on the upper platform”.

A council spokeswoman said the facility “is temporarily closed to public access until further notice in accordance with SafeWork NSW requirements and advice”. [The Blaxland Tip remains open and has not been closed at any point].

A mass meeting of 200 council staff members of the United Services Union with council management on November 27 raised concerns for Blaxland Tip staff in relation to training in “recognising and handling asbestos” since Katoomba Tip had shut three days earlier. Blaxland had been receiving all the rubbish from council.