Construction professionals working on various refurbishment projects at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney have expressed concerns over the chance that they may have been exposed to asbestos during the normal course of their work.
The NSW secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) Brian Parker told the ABC on December 27 that the carcinogenic material had been found “all over” the former Maritime Services building.
Parker asserted: “We had asbestos that was in the sandstone joints. We had asbestos that was in the windows. We had asbestos in the lagging of the pipes.”
Of great concern to the CFMEU is the possibility that the company responsible for the project – Watpac construction – may have been aware of the existence of the carcinogenic material in the building and did not inform workers.
“We have got concerns about a cover-up here because we know that the principal contractor on the job did have the asbestos register,” said Parker.
“We suspect that there is about 400 workers that possibly could be affected by it”
However, WorkCover NSW acting chief executive John Watson says that this number may be inaccurate.
Watson stated: “They’ve said that they’re concerned about the asbestos management of the site. They haven’t said that 400 people have been exposed to asbestos.
“That would be somewhat of an alarmist declaration, given the nature of the work that’s been carried out at the site and the level of controls that we found were in place.”
It is understood that WorkCover has carried out a number of investigations on the site of the $50 million MCA refurbishment project.
“We’re actually quite satisfied with the way in which the principal contractor has managed the concerns at the site,” said Watson.
The problem for workers who may have been exposed to asbestos fibres is that the health issues associated with the substance can take decades to manifest.
Diseases such as asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma have been known to present themselves 30 to 40 years after the initial exposure has taken place.
For victims, this means that a compensation lawyer needs to be able to present the case that a particular point of contact with the material was the sole cause of their condition.
It also means that payments for asbestos-related diseases are only available if the claimant has actually manifested the symptoms – there is no funding available before this occurs.
However, a no win no fee agreement can give mesothelioma sufferers the easy access to legal advice they need to make an informed decision.