Telstra relies on public to inform on asbestos-infested pits

Telstra relies on public to inform on asbestos-infested pits

Summary: Due to the age of some of the millions of pits in its fixed network, Telstra has no full indication of the number of pits containing deadly asbestos material, according to the company's chief risk officer Kate Hughes.

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TOPICS: Telstra, Telcos, NBN
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Telstra is relying on the public and its contractors to report pits suspected to be infested with deadly asbestos material, because records of all of the company's pit and duct infrastructure do not go back far enough to cover all the pits, Telstra's chief risk officer Kate Hughes has said.

In late May, following community concern over absestos handling, Telstra downed tools over work its contractors and subcontractors were doing on remediation of pit and duct infrastructure across the country in preparation for NBN Co equipment. This work was required because NBN Co's equipment doesn't fit into the existing pits and ducts.

Work on the pits recommenced in August, after Telstra had retrained contractors, deployed specialists out into the field to oversee remediation work, and the company overhauled its community communication procedures ahead of any remediation work being done in a particular area. The company is currently only allowing contractors with Class B asbestos-handling licences to work on the pits, and Telstra itself will hold off putting its own workers back out in the field until it gets a Class B licence.

Given the scale of Telstra's network, Hughes told a National Absestos Forum in Sydney today that Telstra does have an asbestos register in place to locate and prioritise those pits that have asbestos in them, but the records do not go back far enough to cover all pits and ducts in the Telstra network.

"We do have an asbestos register. Unfortunately when, and it dates back to when we were the Post-Master General, and many of those pits were first laid, none of those records were kept of the content of those pits, and there are literally millions of them," Hughes said.

"Every time we find one containing asbestos containing material, we add it to the register."

Hughes said that if the public does notice a pit in poor condition, it should be reported to Telstra so the company can prioritise it to be assessed for asbestos.

"Unless people tell us about the pits, because there are so many, we can't always assess and prioritise them."

Hughes said Telstra was "very supportive" of the establishment of a telco industry standard for asbestos management.

Hughes said that the asbestos issue first popped up in her first two months in the Chief Risk Officer role, and it was a "baptism of fire". She said that prior to the incident she was unaware of what pits or ducts were, but said she eventually got "neck deep" in the issue.

Although Telstra took full responsibility for the asbestos problem, Hughes said that the company could not prepare for all events and risks it could potentially encounter. She recalled a recent incident of an explosion in a pit in suburban Melbourne that the company could not foresee.

Unbeknownst to us, a natural gas leak, we don't know where from, had caused a build up of gas in our pit and pipe network. A crow, flew into a transformer on a pole above our pit which caused a spark which ignited the gas, which caused an explosion," she said.

"At least one pit was damaged and the fire spread across the footpath, the nature strip and the roadway.

"We are always quite prepared for this. We have safety procedures for managing gas in our network. We're prepared for it. Unfortunately we can't predict where gas leaks will occur and we certainly can't prepare for birds flying into our transformers."

Topics: Telstra, Telcos, NBN

About

Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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7 comments
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  • Class B license

    "The company is currently only allowing contractors with Class B asbestos-handling licences to work on the pits, and Telstra itself will hold off putting its own workers back out in the field until it gets a Class B licence."

    Are we to read this as meaning that Telstra has been deploying workers to work on areas known to have asbestos (being the pit network in general), without first ensuring they have appropriate asbestos-handling skills? Did NOBODY think of that before the contracts were signed?
    braue
    • There are different types of licences

      http://www.workcover.nsw.gov.au/licensing/Licencesandcertificates/Asbestoslicensing/Pages/default.aspx
      Josh Taylor
  • Put another crow on the barbie!

    To think that with millions of pits and ducts, the Chief Risk Officer would try to explain away such mishandling with examples of contingencies such as a crow blowing out a transformer?!

    Bah. I'm glad to be on the software side. And with a great partner who would never put me at such risk! I say, blokes, you really should be ready for barbied crow. It happens. And that's the least of your worries if you run your infrastructure like this. Heavens. One can only hope your software is run on The One True Platform, at least allowing you to focus your remediation efforts on the hardware side. G'luck with all that!
    Techboy_z
  • Lemme get this straight

    "Telstra is relying on the public and its contractors to report pits suspected to be infested with deadly asbestos material"

    Uhm OK. It is unreasonable for me to say what they SHOULD be doing is being ACTIVE? Asbestos IS deadly and needs to be disposed of NOW, instead of 5 years from now when someone else unsuspecting heads down into a pit, and possibly gets exposed? What about spending some of your billions of profit, creating a taskforce of qualified workers, that is responsible for inspecting pits for asbestos, starting with the oldest pits and ones that are NOT on record as being asbestos free? Yes there are that many, I get it, but you were happy to chrge the NBN $11 BILLION for access to them, knowing it was not safe to actually do so in asbestos cases? It's OK to have your hand out, not OK to spend some money ensuring the safety of the public from harmful asbestos that you admit YOU are responsible for?

    Can Telstra be ANY more of a joke? Oh yeah, while I remember, how is the suing of NBNCo going for interest payments on that agreement when a lot of the delays are of your own doing?

    UNBELIEVABLE
    Ramrunner-5dd3e
  • Who's at risk the most!

    If Kate Hughes, as Telstra's chief risk officer, did not know what "pits or ducts" were after 2 month s in the job, what the . . . . . .
    Goldie248
    • Simple

      She is the poor mug fall guy, remind me what were the roles and responsibilities of the NBN's ex Telstra management team
      Abel Adamski
  • Perspective

    In the early 90's they retrenched the teams that looked after the pits and ducts and were replacing the asbestos , there were records on paper of EVERY pit and duct.
    Seagull management use paper for nesting.
    Remind me who were the CEO and management during those years when the black spots and internet free zones were designed and installed. Hi Ziggy.

    People especially politicians naively believe Telstra are competent, con artists are easily conned
    Abel Adamski