Union urges Ausgrid bidders to commit to asbestos removal

Publicly-owned electricity distributor Ausgrid has implemented a range of safety measures following union claims substations across Sydney, the Central Coast and Hunter still contain asbestos.

Ausgrid said its asbestos management procedures adhere to the SafeWork NSW codes of practice and all requirements of the Work Health and Safety Act, including training programs, personal protective equipment, health monitoring and planned asbestos removal work programs. It has also jointly signed an agreement with the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), endorsed by Safework NSW, to help guide staff about the identification and safe management of asbestos.

The announcement came as the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) urged bidders for Ausgrid to commit to the complete removal and remediation of asbestos following revelations it was imported and installed in more than 50 substations.

Despite being banned from importation or use, almost a thousand switchgear units containing asbestos were installed in more than 50 substations between 2007 and 2014. While a small number of substations have been fully remediated, the ETU said most had the asbestos sealed in place to avoid costly cleanups that would require disruptions to electricity services.

ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said the union was seeking a commitment for a full cleanup of asbestos hazards from the two bidders seeking to buy a majority of the company, Chinese government-owned State Grid Corp and Cheung Kong Infrastructure, owned by Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing.

“The union is demanding that any purchaser of Ausgrid commit to not only safely remove and remediate this newly installed asbestos, but also to the complete removal of asbestos throughout the network,” Mr Butler said.

“We saw during the roll-out of the National Broadband Network the potential risks for workers and the community that are posed by asbestos remaining in public infrastructure, and we want potential buyers to do what the NSW Government has failed to do — completely remove it from the Ausgrid network.”

Mr Butler said the union was prepared and ready to impose safety bans and carry out other actions to see that the future safety of workers and the public was protected.

“Ausgrid has been working for more than 10 years to identify the exact areas where asbestos is present around its electricity network and to safely remove it,” Ausgrid said in a statement.

“We have well established practices to make sure staff and the public are protected from asbestos related risks as they go about their work. This includes a plan to remove and clean asbestos where it has the potential to pose a risk to our people or the public.”