ACT News

Staff concerns about asbestos exposure on campus at UC

The University of Canberra has moved to reassure staff that strict asbestos safety procedures have been followed as part of external building works on the Bruce campus.

Staff working in building 10, home to various facilities within the Faculty of Health including the disciplines of nursing and midwifery, said they were evacuated last week over concerns that asbestos fibres could have been contained in black dust found in academic offices as asbestos removal works were taking place on the outside of the building.

One of the entrances to the 120-hectare University of Canberra campus in Bruce.
One of the entrances to the 120-hectare University of Canberra campus in Bruce.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

The work, planned during the quieter period of the summer semester, saw pieces of grit dislodged from the building's facade, leading to additional precautionary measures being put in place to ensure the safety of staff and students working inside the building.

One staff member said faculty had not been provided with adequate information about the exposure and they were urgently seeking information from the university about the health and safety risks.

"Staff members are outraged that they were not informed about the asbestos removal," the person said.

"After returning from leave they found asbestos removal signage and in some cases workmen in protective clothing with face masks working on the other side of their [unsealed and sometimes broken] windows."

The staff member said the university's failure to notify employees working in the building could have been a breach of the territory's asbestos removal code of practice, despite assurances that there was no risk because the asbestos being removed was bonded.

"During these weeks staff members continued to work in these offices and students and others have visited," the staff member said. "Last week staff members complained that black dust had settled in their offices and this week they were evacuated and advised that asbestos fibres were found in the dust.

"Managers are closing down any opportunities to discuss this and staff members are understandably distressed."

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Parker was not available for comment. UC estate and facilities manager Doug Main said the university's program of capital works to maintain and renew the existing facilities on campus included removal of asbestos from older buildings when it was located.

He said all required processes had been followed and testing found there was no risk to any staff, students or visitors to the area.

"Works are currently under way on external parts of building 10 as part of this asbestos removal program and are being conducted under the supervision of an independent and licensed assessor.

"The works were scheduled to happen during the quiet period at the university to limit disruption to staff and key stakeholders of the building were notified," he said. "During the works, some grit was dislodged and additional precautionary measures were put in place to ensure the safety of everyone in the building."

Mr Main said the grit was removed and disposed of by licensed asbestos contractors with air monitoring being conducted throughout the work and analysis completed by an ACT government laboratory.

"There has been no exposure to airborne asbestos," he said. "The independent assessor has certified that there is no airborne asbestos hazard or asbestos containing dust in the affected area."

Staff were also requested to stay out of some parts of the building during the remainder of some minor carpentry taking place in recent days. A spokeswoman said on Thursday the work had been completed.