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29 May 2013
By Brendon Riley
May
29
2013

A note from Telstra’s Chief Operations Officer, Brendon Riley regarding asbestos.

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Update – Monday 5 August 2013

Today we advised contractors that staged remediation works on its pits would recommence from 19 August with additional safeguards in place.

Read the full release on About Telstra.

Good afternoon,

Earlier this month we received information from concerned residents about the way asbestos was being handled as part of work being carried out in one of our pits in Penrith.

As soon as we received the information we sent our team out to the pit to inspect the site and as a result immediately suspended the contractor from further work and safely secured the area. We also re-visited all sites remediated by this contractor to make sure the removal of asbestos was conducted in the appropriate way.

I ordered an urgent investigation into the incident and my team has been liaising regularly with the local residents including bringing in asbestos experts to talk to them. We understand this is a distressing time for the residents who have every right to expect that this type of work will be conducted safely and in accordance with the strictest of safety procedures.

Let me say from the outset that we are taking this matter extremely seriously. Leaving any amount of asbestos on site is absolutely unacceptable and we share the concerns of the community. The safe and proper handling and disposal of asbestos is an absolute and not-negotiable priority for our employees and our contractors and we have strict guidelines in place that are designed to get this type of work right every time and with zero-risk.

That is why last week, I also instructed my team to undertake an audit into the work practices of our contractors, in addition to Telstra’s already extensive contractor audit program.

We are conducting this audit to ensure the law and our own strict guidelines are adhered to at all times, and to provide the public with confidence in the safety of this process as it occurs.

We absolutely expect our contractors to get this type of work right each and every time, so we are extremely concerned proper processes may not have been followed on a small number of occasions.

I have also stopped all work on remediation of pits until the audit is complete which we anticipate will be this Friday. People may still see our field technicians out and about, but they will be working on things like connections and faults, not the remediation of our pits for the NBN.

In relation to Penrith specifically, since being alerted to the issue we’ve tried on a number of occasions to have an expert team clean up the site but to date have not been able to get agreement from the residents to proceed. We continue to work with them to help them understand fully what we are proposing to do, the urgency associated with this work and the safeguards we’ve got in place.

We have an obligation to the wider community to clean up these public sites as quickly as possible. We also have a directive from Comcare and a request from the Council to clean up the sites and we want to get crews on-site as soon as possible.

Service Stream have engaged an A Class asbestos removal expert to do the work, which will include alerting all residents in the vicinity about the work, erecting fully enclosed tents over the sites to ensure no airborne particles can escape and comprehensive air monitoring throughout.

We have also had claims that our contractors had dumped asbestos bags outside the Telstra Exchange building in Ballarat. Whilst we are still investigating, our contractors tell us that they were with the asbestos at all times and were waiting at the exchange in a designated area for secure bins to be delivered.

Having said that we understand the impact this can have on a community. We have a responsibility to ensure our contractors are complying with the national legislation as well as our expectations, which is why we took such decisive action last week. One incident like this is one too many and we share the community’s concern.

Telstra’s network was built over many years and historically, as with many other types of construction, some of our pits were manufactured from asbestos containing cement. The pits and ducts are underground and left undisturbed pose no risk.

There are strict guidelines in place for asbestos removal which require our employees and contractors to wear appropriate protective clothing and take appropriate safety measures consistent with Asbestos Management and Removal Codes of Practice which also ensures the safety of the public.

Should any resident be concerned about specific work being conducted in their area we encourage them to get in contact with us on 1800 067 225. At no time should a member of the public enter a worksite or collect debris at a worksite.

Brendon Riley.

Update – Thursday, 4 July 2013

Essential service repairs to see limited works in Telstra pits

Telstra today announced a resumption of replacement and repair of telecommunication pits associated with the provision of essential services.

The works will be conducted by licensed removalists and limited to restoration and repair work associated with incidents such as cable-cuts leading to outages, loss of basic services and emergency and medical priority assistance customers.

Any resident concerned about work in their area should contact Telstra on a dedicated hotline number at 1800 067 225.

Telstra today announced a resumption of replacement and repair of telecommunicationpits associated with the provision of essential services.

Update – Monday, 3 June 2013

Telstra welcomes Federal Government initiatives on asbestos

Telstra said today that it shared the Federal Government’s focus on reducing public risk from asbestos and outlined initiatives which supported such objectives.

Telstra CEO David Thodey, Chief Operations Officer Brendon Riley and other executives met Federal Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, union, NBN Co and Departmental representatives in Canberra to discuss this national issue.

Mr Thodey said the meeting had been productive and highlighted cooperative efforts among the various organisations to priortise the safety of employees, contractors and members of the public.

Telstra requires its employees and contractors to follow stringent procedures for asbestos handling and last week announced a range of operational improvements in response to incidents involving Telstra contractors during pit remediation works.

“As we announced last week, Telstra is taking strong actions in the field including reviewing processes so our employees, contractors and the public are given confidence that asbestos is being handled with care and safety in mind,” Mr Thodey said.

“We already have practices, processes and checks in place for our employees when they come into contact with asbestos in our network. However, we are reinforcing the requirements for contractors to comply with our standards, with their safety and broader public safety in mind.”

Telstra noted important initiatives related to items covered at today’s meeting including -

Site inspections: Telstra’s newly announced field force of up to 200 specialists will work with the Office of Asbestos Safety, Comcare, State and Territory work health and safety regulators and local governments to implement a site inspection program.

Register: Telstra supports a national public health register for people to register potential exposure to asbestos and will help publicise the register as part of community consultations on network remediation.

Community engagement: Telstra will engage with local residents and work to accelerate the clean up of any site for which there remains a concern.

Prioritised removal: Telstra will assess the extent to which it can prioritise the removal of pits containing asbestos as part of the NBN rollout.

Telstra already has processes for managing claims of any type from employees and the public to ensure that such claims are handled sensitively and expeditiously. Telstra handles asbestos claims on a case by case basis and claims are met from general operating costs.

In March, the Federal Government introduced legislation into the Parliament to create the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. Telstra intends to work closely with the agency as it goes about its task of protecting workers and the public from possible exposure to asbestos.

Telstra’s actions to date include –

• Up to 200 additional inspection and supervisory jobs will be created to ensure all asbestos-related remediation activity is supervised by an accredited person. Advertising and internal selection for these roles has commenced.
• Telstra will reinforce its high compliance standards with all relevant field employees working with asbestos. This will include every manager reminding their staff about the safety measures that need to be adhered to.
• The temporary stop work on pit remediation will stay in place for contractors (and sub-contractors) until they have completed further training on working with, removing, transporting and disposing of asbestos containing material.
• Telstra will work with Comcare and an accredited training partner to review and update the mandatory training program that all Telstra contractors will need to implement before they are approved to work on Telstra pits.
• Stronger community engagement guidelines to ensure the community is better informed about work in their areas, including longer notification periods, more intensive doorknocking and letterbox drops and improved signage at worksites alerting residents to asbestos-related works.
• Appointment of John Gibbs, Executive Director Network Construction, to oversee all asbestos management activities in Telstra.
• Appointment of PriceWaterhouseCoopers as independent advisers.

Mr Thodey said the Board of Directors would continue to be kept informed on the way these issues are being managed and key developments on the ground.

Any resident concerned about work in their area should contact Telstra on a dedicated hotline number at 1800 067 225.

Update – Sunday, 2 June 2013

Telstra appoints independent advisers to review asbestos practices

Telstra has appointed independent advisers and a 34-year Telstra engineering veteran to ensure Telstra has best practice asbestos management work practices protecting employees, contractors and the public.

The appointments follow a range of operational improvements announced last Thursday in response to recent incidents involving Telstra contractors.

Telstra Chief Operating Officer Brendon Riley today said PriceWaterhouseCoopers would work as the company’s independent advisers to help review Telstra systems and processes.

Mr Riley said Executive Director of Telstra Network Construction, John Gibbs, would oversee all asbestos management activities, including current compliance and outcomes from last week’s contractor audits. John is one of Telstra’s most experienced executives leading complex and large scale construction and engineering projects across Australia.

Telstra will meet Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, with Federal department, union and NBN Co. representatives in Canberra tomorrow to support a broader coordinated approach to asbestos management in Australia.

“Telstra continues to take major steps to confirm best practice in asbestos management by its employees and ensure that all contractors and sub-contractors meet the same high standards under the Federal Code of Practice,” Mr Riley said.

“Our highest priority is the safety and peace of mind of our staff and the community. We will work closely with the Federal Government to do our part in dealing with asbestos risks alongside other industries with potential exposure.

“We have acted decisively by implementing extra checks, controls and training and adding significant extra people and resources to reassure the community when it comes to our work in the field.”

Telstra last week announced a new field workforce of up to 200 specialists to directly inspect and supervise all asbestos-related remediation work as well as mandatory Telstra-designed training for all contractors and sub-contractors.

Telstra’s actions to date include –
• Up to 200 additional inspection and supervisory jobs will be created to ensure all asbestos-related remediation activity is supervised by an accredited person. Advertising and internal selection for these roles has commenced.
• Telstra will reinforce its high compliance standards with all relevant field employees working with asbestos. This will include every manager reminding their staff about the safety measures that need to be adhered to.
• The temporary stop work on pit remediation will stay in place for contractors (and sub-contractors) until they have completed further training on working with, removing, transporting and disposing of asbestos containing material.
• Telstra will work with Comcare and an accredited training partner to review and update the mandatory training program that all Telstra contractors will need to implement before they are approved to work on Telstra pits.
• Stronger community engagement guidelines to ensure the community is better informed about work in their areas, including longer notification periods, more intensive doorknocking and letterbox drops and improved signage at worksites alerting residents to asbestos-related works.
• Appointment of John Gibbs, Executive Director Network Construction, to oversee all asbestos management activities
• Appointment of PriceWaterhouseCoopers as independent advisers

Additional improvements, including any necessary changes from operational reviews of reported incidents in the field, will be progressively announced as they are reviewed and finalised.

Any resident concerned about work in their area should contact Telstra on a dedicated hotline number at 1800 067 225.

Update – Thursday 30 May 2013

Following my blog yesterday, I wanted to update you on some of the initiatives Telstra is putting in place to strengthen the way we supervise and manage asbestos management and removal.

Telstra will take direct control of all work with asbestos containing material. This includes a new field workforce of up to 200 specialists to directly supervise all remediation work done by our contractors.

We are also putting in place mandatory Telstra-designed and run training for all contractors and subcontractors that work on the parts of our network that have asbestos containing material.

These are strong actions reflecting our absolute priority on the safety of our workers, our contractors and the community.

The initiatives include:
• Up to 200 additional inspection and supervisory jobs will be created to ensure all remediation activity is supervised by an accredited person. Advertising and internal selection for these roles has commenced.
• Telstra will reinforce its high compliance standards with all relevant field employees working with asbestos. This will include every manager reminding their staff about the safety measures that need to be adhered to.
• The temporary stop work on pit remediation will stay in place for contractors (and sub-contractors) until they have completed further training on working with, removing, transporting and disposing of asbestos containing material.
• Following the audit Telstra will work with Comcare and an accredited training partner to review and update the mandatory training program that all Telstra contractors will need to implement before they are approved to work on Telstra pits.
• Stronger community engagement guidelines to ensure the community is better informed about work in their areas, including longer notification periods, more intensive doorknocking and letterbox drops and improved signage at worksites alerting residents to asbestos-related works.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, the Hon Bill Shorten, has directed the Office of Asbestos Safety to coordinate a national response to the issue and we will cooperate fully with this work. Our intent is to establish and lead a high level working group, with involvement from NBN Co, Comcare and our lead contractors, to implement and monitor an asbestos management plan for maintenance or the NBN rollout.

This morning we have commenced a clean up of the public sites in Penrith after we received agreement from the residents to get this under way. We continue to talk to them to arrange a suitable time for the cleaning of their properties and hope this can occur as soon as possible.

For more information on asbestos and Telstra, visit our Asbestos Information page on About Telstra.

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Posts: 1

27 Comments

  1. Beat Odermatt says:

    This demonstrates clearly that bad management practices have again become accepted within Telstra. I am sure bad management practices are not only still remaining in the area of safety, but also in marketing. I found out today that Telstra again is again introducing schemes to get rid of existing customers, but providing better deals and services to new customers. It seems that effort by the CEO to move Telstra into a new phase of management may starts failing. I may mention just as an example Naked Cable Internet, where existing customers are being asked to leave Telstra and then to sign up as “new” customers. It is silly deals which make existing customers leave or remain angry.

    • Danielle Clarke says:

      Hi Beat, this doesn’t sound good at all. Getting rid of customers is definitely not something we’re doing -- quite the opposite! Can you please send me some more details to danielle.clarke@team.telstra.com so I can look into it with the business. Thanks for the feedback. Danielle, Telstra

  2. Joel Dickins says:

    Will Telstra take out full-page newspaper advertising in each of the major metro newspapers as well as the local papers in the affected areas, explaining how this happened, and how it is not the NBN causing this, but Telstra fixing the infrastructure first so that the NBN can then be rolled out in Telstra pits and ducts as per the agreement?

    Will Telstra formally correct the articles appearing in media which are blaming NBNco for this issue?

    • Danielle Clarke says:

      Hi Joel, I’m sure you’ve seen the updates to the blog above which outline our actions and response as an organisation. Telstra is taking strong actions in the field including reviewing processes so our employees, contractors and the public are given confidence that asbestos is being handled with care and safety in mind. There’s further information above with more details. Danielle, Telstra

  3. Nick says:

    Unfortunately with so much asbestos around the country these events will happen be it from uninformed workers or workers not doing their job correctly.

    I am wondering why was asbestos used in phone pits, was there a desirable property that asbestos had that made it so good for pits?
    To me, using concrete seems like it would have been easier and possibly cheaper.

    • Danielle Clarke says:

      Hi Nick, thanks for your comments. Telstra’s network was built over many years and historically, as with many other types of construction, some of our pits and ducts were manufactured from asbestos containing cement. The pits and ducts are underground and left undisturbed pose no risk.

      There are strict guidelines in place for asbestos removal which require our employees and contractors to wear appropriate protective clothing and take appropriate safety measures consistent with Asbestos Management and Removal Codes of Practice which also ensures the safety of the public.

      Should any resident be concerned about specific work being conducted in their area we encourage them to get in contact with us on 1800 067 225.

      Danielle, Telstra

  4. Jayd says:

    At the start of the year the footpath outside the front of my house was dug up, about 100 meters, in Richmond Victoria.

    The workers used hammers and machinery to break up old grey coloured pipes and then placed in new PVC pipes and new pits, installed fibre optic cable to a new development, covered it with gravel and left it that way for close on 6 months.

    A huge pile of refuse, including pieces of these grey pipes was left blocking my drive way and took a good 7 days of constantly calling Telstra to have removed.

    HOW DO WE KNOW IF THIS WAS ASBESTOS?

    Who do we speak to? What do we do?

    • Danielle Clarke says:

      Hi Jayd, sorry for the late reply -- the answer to your question sits above in the new information in the blog. If you have any concerns, please call the dedicated hotline number at 1800 067 225. Danielle, Telstra

  5. Peter Mills says:

    Hi Brendon. Take a leaf out of what Victorian electricity utility CitiPower/Powercor is doing with its smart-meter rollout. They also had major concerns about asbestos and other health & safety related issues associated with contractors installing 1.2 million smart-meters into old customer switchboards. What they did was use a scientific auditing solution to identify and correct non-compliant work practices before they had a chance to result in major safety incidents. The results speak for themselves. No lost time injuries and a program that is rolling out ahead of schedule.

  6. Mary White says:

    Telstra is the MOST APPALLING company on the face of the planet!! They have totally stuff up my home phone line therefore causing a total lack of internet connection an tell me it will take OVER TWO WEEKS to fix….and we live in the middle if Adelaide -- not in the back end of Whoop Whoop! Positively DISGUSTING service!!!!!!! Telstra is to be avoid at all costs!!!! And -- I will be spreading the word!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Naz Hamid says:

    I’m trying to get a phone line connected to our new house (it’s just been built), but have been advised that this might not be possible due to the potential of asbestos being in our street pit. How am I meant to have a phone and internet connection if this can’t be remedied?? Are we expected to be without a landline or internet for weeks/months???

    • Az [Telstra Community Manager] says:

      Hi Naz,
      I understand your concern. Please contact Telstra on a dedicated asbestos hotline number at 1800 067 225. The team there will be able to advise what options are available.
      Az

    • Brett Be says:

      Hi Naz, I’m in the same situation. I was told to consider reconnection via overhead wires, rather via the underground asbestos pit. I’m told there is a government emargo, but my reading suggests the embargo is by telstra. I agree that safety is paramount, but there has been no communication or accountability. No phone, no internet -- for how long? Is there a priority or urgent reconnection team? Will customers without connections be reconnected? And please do not give me a 1800 number to phone, you assume firstly that I can get through without being on hold. You know my address and my issue, why aren’t you contacting me?

    • Naz Hamid says:

      Totally agree with you Brett. Have a look at the response I got to my post, please call the 1800 number. I don’t think these people actually realise how unhelpful and useless the people on that 1800 number are. They’ve given absolutely no indication of timeline or anything. It’s definitely a Telstra embargo as Comcare have no issues with Telstra’s asbestos handling procedures anymore.

      I was advised a month ago that on 24 Sep, we would finally have our phone line connected to the pit as they would commence asbestos remediation works in it. 24 Sep came and went… Now I’m told that they have connected the line to the pit, but Telstra won’t actually connect the phone line until 24 Oct…..!! It’s been 3.5 months without a phone line at our house. What a joke. I’ve just been travelling in the desert in Morocco and I could get WiFi in that 3rd world country, yet I can’t get a phone line in a well established suburb of Melbourne. It’s just a 15 minute job, but Telstra seem determined to make us wait yet another 3 weeks (and that’s if they actually do it).

      I have absolutely no faith in Telstra as an organisation anymore.

  8. Vasu says:

    I moved my house recently and I have been following up with Telstra for my new telephone connection for the past 3 months. Till date I did not receive any reasonable/responsible answer from them. So for I have called them almost every other day and was thrown to all other departments. Believe me, I have been asked to call all 1300/1800 numbers ranging from 13 2200, 1800 895 319, 1800 067 225 and then back to 13 2200 to 1800 068 105 to 1800895319 again, goes in circles, but final result is nothing. I am on the phone for hours (wasting my time and energy) but again referred back to square one. While talking, I requested that I would like to speak to a supervisor/manager, I was told that the supervisor would not want to talk to me. For God’s sake, how am I expected to escalate this issue then? I am so frustrated why Telstra cannot provide service/telephone line to a new house in Melbourne even after 3 months of constant follow ups? Worst is…I still don’t know how and when will I get my telephone connection…

  9. Daniel says:

    I have been trying to get a line installed since i moved to my place at the beginning of the money. I am actually with TPG but have been told Telstra own the lines. First I was told the line would be installed on 14th October. then i was told it was activated at the exchange and not connected to the actual unit, this would be done on or before 24th October. I call on 24th and am told, the line involves connection to a damaged asbestos pit so I won’t have a phone line until 21st November. As i am a TPG customer, Telstra will not speak to me to advise me further than just “this is a complex issue”. It’s a complete farce. Companies will happily take my money, but provide me with no service, and appear to be in no rush to do so. The only reason I am not with telstra is because I cannot be locked into their huge contracts in my circumstances, yet they own the lines I need to use but I can’t speak to the company that are actually supposed to be fixing it.

    • Jamie (Editor) says:

      Hi Daniel, I understand you are having a frustrating experience. We make our fixed network available at a wholesale level so other companies can offer retail services. We do so consistent with rules established by the ACCC. Customers who buy their service from a company other than Telstra need to contact that company directly about any issues in the supply of their services. Both Telstra and the other providers who use our network have agreed to these arrangements, and we must abide by them.

  10. Jay says:

    Ridiculous, just finished building a duplex to live in, and was told about the asbestos pit back in August. It’s now October, and no hope of the houses being connected to copper. Hurry up and get it sorted next week in time for me to rent the other house out.

  11. Kim says:

    I rang the hotline because I handled the soil no asbestos signs were up but I was unsure after seeing what happened at penrith one year later I still have not been called back and yesterday workers in my street were in asbestos suits where is your responsibility there no one even investigated my complaint and that soil was exposed to a classroom of kids which was explained to the hotline person at the time

    • Jamie (Editor) says:

      Hi Kim, I would very much like to follow this up for you. Are you please able to reply with a contact number? Thanks, Jamie.

  12. Kim says:

    I answered your email as soon as you put this up and I’m still yet to hear from you like before not surprising I rang your hot line again to get the run around and be lied to in regards to not being called back to be told you will not come out and test the soil that I’m to register on some government list so if I have cancer or something in 30 years I’m on the list do I give the school this number so they can issue it to the children’s parents shame on you Telstra

    • Jamie (Editor) says:

      Kim. The safety of our employees, contractors and the community is our highest priority. When it comes to asbestos, we’re committed to ensuring we have best practice processes in place to manage all work associated with asbestos in our pits – including its safe handling and disposal. Our records show that a Complaint Resolution Coordinator has called you twice to explain the process we follow, most recently on Friday 19 June. If this call and explanation still didn’t answer your questions, please call the dedicated hotline again to discuss your concerns. Telstra’s 24/7 dedicated hotline for asbestos related enquiries is on 1800 067 225.

  13. Kim says:

    Please don’t try and make it look like you have done the right thing one phone call has been made to me and I told you that when you rang Friday as i said to you then i do not appreciate being lied to and there is no-one at this number by the name of Michael. if i was calling someone about something as important as this i would only speak with the person that made the enquiry in the first place .If you think that Telstra has done everything in its power to protect the public by not even testing the soil when people have come in contact with it by giving them a phone number to register so if they have cancer in 30 years they have reported it well so be it . Yes you have explained the process to me I understand you are going to do absolutely nothing so again shame on you Telstra.By the way still don’t have the letter I’m to present to the school

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