Unions are demanding the NT Government take immediate action to clean up asbestos contamination after patients and staff at Alice Springs Hospital were exposed to the potentially deadly fibres during an air conditioning installation last week.
The pathology laboratory at the hospital was shut down when health authorities detected “low positive” levels of asbestos contamination but the Northern Territory’s Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has slammed that assessment, calling it misleading.
“You’ve either got a negative or a positive, there’s nothing in between,” CFMEU workplace safety officer Andrew Ramsay said.
“There’s no such thing as a low positive result because it’s a term that’s never even used in the asbestos industry in this country.”
Central Australia Health Service said in a statement that services at the Pathology Building at Alice Springs Hospital will be redirected while the building remains closed.
So far, 60 patients and 27 staff are known to have had access to the building on Monday and Tuesday last week before it was closed .
During this time, the pathology unit will operate on resources equivalent to after-hours services, with the help of Western Diagnostic Pathology.
The statement also said the hospital was working on a remediation plot while the Department of Health hired an asbestos removalist.
Asbestos an ‘epidemic’ in the NT
The CFMEU said in March it place forward an urgency motion calling on the Gunner Government to address the issue of asbestos by extending the Public Heath and Environment Act and Regulations to specifically address asbestos.
The union called on the Gunner Government to implement strong legislation as well as an awareness and education program to ensure people in the NT had a basic understanding of asbestos containing materials and their dangers.
“Asbestos exposure in the Northern Territory has become somewhat of an epidemic,” CFMEU divisional branch secretary Michael Ravbar said.
“How many cases of asbestos exposure does there need to be before this Government shows some leadership and takes action on this major health issue.”
Mr Ravbar also pointed fingers at NT Work Safe, saying the organisation has been “ineffective” and is “not the answer” to an “ever-growing” issue.
NT WorkSafe said its role was to ensure that duty holders complied with their legal obligations and it was not involved in detecting or cleaning up asbestos.
“On receiving information on the detection of asbestos at Alice Springs Hospital Pathology Building, NT WorkSafe provided advice to immediately shut down and isolate the building,” the organisation said in a statement.
“NT WorkSafe has commenced an investigation into this incident.”
‘Urgent action’ required on asbestos in the NT
The Opposition said asbestos contamination is widespread in the Territory and called for action following the findings at Alice Springs Hospital.
“It’s not just the hospital, it’s all of the other buildings that Government really own,” Opposition Leader Gary Higgins said.
“And what plans do we have in place?
“There doesn’t seem to be any.”
In a statement, the NT Government said it had established a working group to improve asbestos awareness and management.
CFEMU wanted the Gunner Government to stay working on measures to protect people who have been exposed to asbestos fibres, which can get trapped in the lungs and cause disease, often many years later.
It was also calling for an urgent audit of asbestos on all government buildings in the Northern Territory.
Let’s block ads! (Why?)