Workers may face a risk of being exposed to asbestos. Photo: Peter Rae
The risk of asbestos exposure to Canberra workers rolling out the national broadband network will be assessed before work in Telstra pits will be permitted to resume, safety authority ACT WorkSafe says.
All rollout work in Telstra pits across the country was stopped last month so the risks of asbestos exposure could be assessed.
ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said on Thursday ACT WorkSafe was now working with Comcare and Telstra on the problem and would formally devise a management plan and would undertake safety inspections across Canberra.
Mr McCabe did not know when work on Telstra pits would resume.
Earlier this month, Telstra dismissed concerns asbestos had been found in telephone pits in Gungahlin, following the discovery of contamination in a Telstra pit at Penrith. Further discoveries were also reported in Ballarat, Perth, Adelaide and Tasmania.
Mr McCabe said any asbestos- containing materials in Telstra pits was likely be in a bonded form, which would lower the risk of wider exposure to asbestos fibres during removal operations.
But there could be exposure if removals were mishandled.
''I understand the community concern but the risk to the public is almost negligible - the real risk is to the contractors involved,'' Mr McCabe said.
An NBN spokesman said the wider NBN rollout in the ACT had not stopped while the safety review was being conducted.
Following the completion of the rollout in parts of Gungahlin - a new suburb which is unlikely to have been affected as Telstra stopped using asbestos in the 1980s - field operations, including installations, were continuing.
In Civic and Queanbeyan, the NBN is at the stage of detailed design work and workers are making field surveys.
Telstra decided on May 28 to suspend all asbestos-related work in its pits as news broke nationally that workers could be exposed to the substance. It was also conducting its own audit of asbestos-management work practices.
ACT WorkSafe, Comcare and the ACT chief health officer are drafting and will implement a management strategy to ensure community safety is not compromised.
Mr McCabe noted that Telstra, as the principal contractor for the work, was overseen by the Commonwealth work health and safety regulator, while contractors themselves fell under the jurisdiction of Comcare and WorkSafe ACT. The two organisations would collaborate to conduct joint inspections ''when that is deemed necessary''.
A Telstra spokesman said ''the stopwork, along with a range of other initiatives, reflect our absolute priority on the safety of our workers, our contractors and the community''.
Correction: This article initially wrongly said work had stopped on the NBN rollout in Canberra.