Here at AlertForce, we love an opportunity to head north to Darwin. We’ve been running training courses in some of the more remote areas of the Northern Territory for a while now and it’s a great opportunity to see work health and safety in action in different environments and communities. The territory has some truly unique challenges when it comes to creating safe work environments – cyclones, humidity, blazing sun, huge distances just to name a few! In the Northern Territory businesses, local government, and indigenous corporations are going to require specialised expertise and targeted resources, including education and training programs, to responsibly and effectively manage asbestos.
Exposed asbestos has been found on the outskirts of Barunga, a remote indigenous community about 400km south-east of Darwin. It looks as though the asbestos was dumped many years ago and finding the culprit now will be a long shot. The dangerous legacy of the dumped materials, however, remains and residents are concerned about the wellbeing of their community, especially of their children. Workers from the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics came to investigate the site in May this year along with an asbestos contractor. They are mapping the area and conducting tests on samples of material but in the meantime, residents continue to fret about the exposed waste and want to see it cleaned up and removed as soon as possible.
In 2017, residents of Northern Territory town Tennant Creek discovered that their children had been unknowingly playing in a rundown building containing asbestos. The fear now is that the children have been exposed and their health put at risk. Testing has since revealed asbestos in other demountable buildings in Tennant Creek and WorkSafe NT has been working with the Asbestos Disease Support Society to put adequate safety measures in place so that the buildings are sealed off.
Patients and staff were exposed to potentially dangerous asbestos fibres during the installation of air-conditioning at Alice Springs Hospital last year. Both the Territory Opposition and the NT’s Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) both called on the Government to take urgent and direct action on asbestos in the Northern Territory with fears that many government owned buildings contain asbestos. CFMEU divisional branch secretary described it as an “ever growing… major health issue.”
The residents of Yuendumu, 300km north-west of Alice Springs are concerned about legacy waste on their outskirts of their town where old dump sites are full of asbestos containing materials which put their community at risk.
In May last year, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) found that, while asbestos is an issue in all parts of Australia, towns like Yuendumu face unique challenges in dealing with asbestos. For example, the cost of removing asbestos in remote towns is three times higher than for non-remote areas.
Who is responsible?
Asbestos control is now the responsibility of the Northern Territory Government after a motion was passed at the 2017 NT ALP conference to include the issue in the Public and Environmental Health Act. Given the considerable challenges faced by communities in the NT, local councils and indigenous corporations will need to work with government representatives, certified asbestos experts, and community leaders to find the most efficient and effective ways to manage and remove asbestos. As local Barunga resident Mr Bush says, there is an opportunity here to train and employ locals to identify and remove asbestos on country. “They should give us Indigenous people that’s living here a chance to do a course or go and do it through a small business so that we can all achive one goal,” said Mr Bush.
Education and training will be vital to any efforts to eradicate asbestos from remote communities. Considering the vast distances and huge costs associated with removing asbestos from remote areas, it seems to make sense that the communities themselves would be involved in asbestos management. Training community leaders to identify asbestos where it is present will keep residents and children safer while the logistics of removal are figured out.
AlertForce trainers are experienced in educating and training a diverse range of people and will work with local councils and corporations to establish effective training programs. Contact us today so we can work with you to manage the problem of asbestos in remote regions.