Union calls on NT Government to immediately act on asbestos problem following asbestos discovery at Alice Springs Hospital


Unions are urging the NT Government to take immediate action to act on the asbestos contamination incident at Alice Springs Hospital, where patients and staff were exposed to the deadly fibre during an air conditioning installation.

The hospital’s pathology laboratory was shut down after health authorities discovered “low positive” levels of asbestos contamination. The Northern Territory’s Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union (CFMEU) said the assessment was misleading.

“You’ve either got a negative or a positive, there’s nothing in between,” ABC quoted CFMEU workplace safety officer Andrew Ramsay as saying.

“There’s no such thing as a low positive result because it’s a term that’s never been used in the asbestos industry in this country.”

The CFMEU in March called on the NT Government to implement strong legislation and an awareness program to help people in the NT to have a basic understanding of asbestos-containing materials and the dangers associated with it.

“Asbestos exposure in the Northern Territory has become somewhat of an epidemic,” said CFMEU divisional branch secretary Michael Ravbar.

“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.

In a statement, the NT Government said it has already established a working group to strengthen asbestos awareness and management.

The Department of Health said they are currently reviewing the status of asbestos at the Alice Springs Hospital.

“Specialist hygienists are currently working with working with a specialist asbestos removal company,” the Department of Health said in a statement.

“At this stage, approximately 60 patients and 27 staff were identified as having access to the building on Monday and Tuesday last week. All staff have been notified and meetings are being held to provide updates and offer support. The Central Australia Health Service is currently in the process of making contact with patients to provide information and to offer support.

“At this stage, we do not know how long the Pathology building will be closed, a site has been selected on the hospital campus that will act as an interim Pathology laboratory. While awaiting advice from the specialist hygienists on the use the existing pathology equipment, plans are being made to purchase equipment for use in the new location. It is anticipated to be open by the end of the month.

“Procedures have been put in place to minimise disruption to testing. Western Diagnostic Pathology is conducting urgent testing and pathologies are being sent to Tennant Creek and Royal Darwin Hospitals. The services in Tennant Creek and Royal Darwin Hospital will not be affected with the additional demand.”

The agency said they will continue to take the management of asbestos seriously across all of its facilities.

“Asbestos-related work at our facilities is managed by either the relevant Hospitals Engineering Department or by the Governments Construction agency, Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics. Each of these groups only utilise NT Worksafe approved and licenced asbestos removalists and hygienists to complete asbestos management tasks and work is completed in accordance with the Code of Practice.

“We continue to work with NT WorkSafe to investigate and review our asbestos management processes.

“Whilst we are focussing on the current Pathology building, we are in the process of assessing all of the asbestos registers across the Health Department. The process will recommend appropriate improvements on current systems.”

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