As many as two million meter boards in houses built before 1983 across New South Wales could be harbouring asbestos, prompting the electricity workers union to ban its members from working on such sites.
In a statement, the Electrical Trades Union says it has banned members employed by Endeavour Energy from working on homes built before 1983 after the company issued a warning to its staff not to work at or near potentially contaminated boards. Endeavour Energy covers western Sydney, the Blue Mountains, and the Illawarra region.
“We are banning our Endeavour Energy members from opening or working near any meter boards unless the company has provided documentary evidence that the board is asbestos free,” the statement says. “This is the first in a series of steps that the NSW ETU will be taking to stamp out asbestos exposure in our industry.”
Endeavour says the warning follows the discovery by a worker of the presence of dust residues in meter installations in older homes belonging to customers of the energy services provider.
The company says it is working with an occupational hygienist to examine the dust residues, who will advise on the appropriate action to protect workers.
“We issued a precautionary safety alert to our workforce on Friday after one of our staff reported the presence of dust residues in customers’ meter installations in older homes,” Endeavour Energy chief operating officer Rod Howard says. “Some older homes built before 1988 may have customer meter boards containing asbestos which is perfectly safe in its bonded form.”
Howard says that workers must remove any residue from drilled surfaces according to standard industry safety practices.
“This is to avoid the risk of leaving behind any asbestos fibres created from drilling,” he says.
Howard says Endeavour’s most recent safety alert requires staff to wear protective face masks when opening or working on meter boards to avoid the risk of inhaling friable asbestos if present.
However, an ETU spokesman says these will do little to protect workers.
Endeavour has also warned customers who live in a home built before 1988 to wear a dust mask when opening their meter box and contact a licensed electrician should they need to access the switchboard.
The federal government is trying to remove asbestos from all buildings in Australia by 2030 and expects to have a new government body tasked with developing a plan for asbestos removal in buildings across the nation established by July next year.