The Independent Asbestos Taskforce is to recruit 14 monitors from around Australia as part of its efforts to oversee the safe removal of asbestos from Telstra NBN worksites.
According to a statement released yesterday (July 15) by minister for Workplace Relations Bill Shorten, the initiative will ensure that all in the proximity of communications pits undergoing work with the rollout of the NBN will be kept safe if asbestos-containing materials are found in them.
This includes the contractors working on the pits, residents who live near the work sites, and the general public.
After being established in June, the Independent Asbestos Taskforce has set about to improve monitoring of asbestos in Telstra pits and reducing the likelihood of exposure to dangerous asbestos dust or fibres.
Mr Shorten said that identifying and then safely removing asbestos is "an absolute priority" for the government.
"Asbestos is a cruel, indiscriminate killer and because of its widespread use over much of the 20th century, it remains a persistent threat to Australians," said Mr Shorten.
"I welcome the progress made by the taskforce to put in place measures to reduce exposure."
According to a factsheet published by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), Australia was among the biggest users of asbestos in the 20th century.
The substance was used widely in the construction, shipping and manufacturing industries, as well as in many products.
The government estimates that between 1945 and 1980, a third of all homes built in Australia would have used asbestos in some way.
In home building alone, it was used in ceilings, internal walls, external cladding, vinyl floor tiles, roofs and eaves.
All use of asbestos in building was banned in the late 1980s and a complete ban came into effect in 2003.
Despite the fact that it is no longer used, asbestos continues to leave its mark as a dangerous presence in many homes and workplaces around the country.
That includes in Telstra's network infrastructure, where asbestos-containing cement has been used at times in the past in some communications pits and ducts.
Telstra is working with the taskforce to ensure that all contractors and subcontractors are fully trained and certified
The ASEA states that Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos-related disease incidence in the world, and in 2010 alone, 642 Australians died from Mesothelioma.
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