Torrens Island workers exposed to lead during tear-down

Photo of AGL's Torrens Island power station
Torrens Island power station (Image: Shutterstock)

Workers at AGL‘s Torrens Island power station in South Australia have been exposed to lead during the plant’s decommissioning, according to ABC News.

According ABC News, at least four workers, which include AGL employees, have been affected by lead exposure after working on the project.

Related article: Demolition to begin at AGL’s Torrens A Power Station

South Australia’s electrical and plumbing union has accused AGL of multiple breaches of work safety laws and regulations during its decommissioning of Torrens Island power station, and believes workers at the site remain at risk of lead exposure.

Concerns about dust found at the Torrens Island A Station were first raised in April 2023, amid fears the material workers identified contained asbestos. AGL conducted testing and instead found lead.

Testing revealed the electrical cabling being cut, carried, ground and removed by workers was encased in the potentially hazardous material.

Allegedly, there were no processes for decontamination onsite, resulting in lead being found at offices, workers’ homes and in cars.

“There seems to have been a failure to understand that removing lead covered cable was going to pose a risk to workers,” Communications, Electrical, Energy and Plumbing Union (CEPU) South Australia branch secretary John Adley told ABC News.

“We were just going home with our clothes on and our boots on. No-one was really aware of it at all,” worker Sean Gibbons said.

Gibbons, who was hired as a contractor, said he experienced symptoms such as fatigue, stomach upset, insomnia, and pins and needles in his legs.

“I was getting about three hours of sleep a night, just lying in bed wide awake,” he said.

Tests revealed Gibbons’ lead levels in his blood were three times higher than recommended.

Once lead was discovered, AGL stopped work in the area and made changes including developing a working-with-lead procedure as well as a review to identify tasks that would involve the material.

But CEPU alleges subsequent lead-related events took place at Torrens Island, including contractors who weren’t wearing appropriate PPE clearing a trench which contained lead cable.

The union says it has been more than six months after concerns were first reported to SafeWork SA, with South Australia’s work safety watchdog yet to issue improvement notices against AGL.

An AGL spokesperson said, “The health, safety and wellbeing of our people is a priority. During decommissioning works of Torrens A Station, sections of redundant electrical cabling were removed. When the hazard associated with handling lead was identified, work was ceased, monitoring of the work area and exposure level assessment was conducted.

Related article: Industrial action threatens to disrupt transmission projects

“Affected workers were, and continue to be, supported by AGL. Our workforce was informed of the incident, have participated in regular information sessions about the risks and controls when working with possible lead-containing substances.

“In response to the incident, AGL has taken several steps and measures, both at Torrens Island and at other AGL sites to ensure the health and safety of our people. Developed by an independent certified industrial hygienist, AGL has issued new Safe Work Instruction specific to the hazards associated with handling of lead cables. AGL reported the incident to SafeWork SA and continues to engage and work with SafeWork SA and the CEPU.”

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