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.