A NSW council that found itself at the centre of damaging asbestos mismanagement claims is now on the path to becoming a standard bearer of good asbestos practice, a report has found.
A state government inquiry into Blue Mountains City Council has found while there were past failings, Council has successful rehabilitated its asbestos management.
The inquiry also found some of the allegations made against the council in relation to its management of asbestos were “utter tripe”.
The NSW government released its final report on asbestos management by Blue Mountains last week after a more than three year inquiry and the production of tens of thousands of pages of documents.
The inquiry found Blue Mountains had remedied failings in asbestos management prior to mid 2017 and could now serve as a state-wide example of how to do it right.
Noting that Blue Mountains isn’t alone in having to deal with asbestos, Commissioner Richard Beasley made a recommendation that a management toolkit developed by council should be distributed to other councils.
The toolkit is currently being reviewed by Safe Work NSW and is scheduled for release in the middle of the year, a spokeswoman told Government News.
Blue Mountains’ troubles began in in 2017 when allegations aired on radio suggested local preschoolers were being exposed to asbestos, however a subsequent notice to close the preschool by Safe Work and an improvement notice issued to council were both found to be unlawful.
More allegations were broadcaset in February 2018, leading to the announcement of an inquiry into the management of asbestos, employment, working environment and organisational structures at Council.
The hearings also looked at investigations into asbestos management by consultants engaged by Council.
A finding is made that the Council is now on the path of being an exemplar in relation to the management of asbestos and the risks posed by it.Blue Mountains City Council final report, March 2021
The inquiry found many of the claims made about council in relation to its asbestos management, including allegations about senior staff, were “utter tripe”.
“From the evidence given to this Inquiry it is accepted that the many false assertions broadcast in the period late 2017 to February 2018 caused a great deal of distress to some employees of the Council, and had a widespread negative impact on the organisation as a whole,” Commissioner Beasley found.
However council didn’t get off the hook entirely, with criticism about its management of asbestos prior to late 2017.
The report notes previous compliance issues around the Katoomba Waste Depot and the Lawson Carpark, which is says have since been fixed.
“Certain conduct by the Council in respect to the management of asbestos between Jan 2013 and 2017 warrants criticism,” the Commissioner says.
“Council was slow to develop asbestos management plans, or adequate plans, and registers for all its workplaces. It found itself, for too long, non-compliant with Work Health Safety Act and other failings.”
But he notes the situation has been remedied since 2017 and “a finding is made that the Council is now on the path of being an exemplar in relation to the management of asbestos and the risks posed by it”.
Council welcomes report
Blue Mountains City Council has welcomed the report.
“The Public Inquiry finds that any failings in asbestos management were not known to the councillors or council executive, but when they became aware they worked together to investigate and address them,” Mayor Mark Greenhill said in a statement.
“Most importantly, the Council has fixed past organisational mistakes in relation to asbestos management.”
A defamation case launched by CEO Rosemary Dillon against 2GB radio announcer Ray Hadley is understood to have reached a confidential resolution and Mr Hadley issued a public apology to Dr Dillon last year.
CEO Dr Dillon said the events of 2017 and early 2018 had taken a massive toll on council, staff and on the City.
“It is my hope that we can now move forward, and continue to help other local government areas in managing asbestos safely,” she said in a statement.
Local government minister Shelley Hancock agreed with Commissioner Beasley that Blue Mountains’ asbestos management toolkit would be a valuable resource for all NSW councils.
“All councils must ensure that they protect their workers and residents from the dangers of asbestos,” she said.
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