“Until we have systems in place to ensure that any product that comes in from overseas is asbestos-free then we really need to consider what we are importing, and if that means not importing similar products until that can be resolved then that’s what we should do,” The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union’s West Australian State Secretary Mick Buchan said.
The construction union has called on the Federal Government to consider a temporary ban on the importation of some building materials from China.
It comes in the wake of a report into the discovery of white asbestos in the roof panels at the new Perth Children’s Hospital.
The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union’s West Australian State Secretary Mick Buchan said certain Chinese building products might need to be stopped at the border.
The interim report released today by WA’s Building Commissioner Peter Gow blames the presence of the asbestos on both a failure of the procurement process and the contract management process.
“John Holland and Yuanda Australia correctly specified that the materials that they were going to put into the hospital should not contain asbestos, they should be asbestos free,” Mr Gow said.
“There was a problem or a hiccup in the production process in China and inappropriate or non-conforming materials were in fact included in the panels.”
The hospital is being built by John Holland, which was sold to China’s CCCC International last year.
The former federal treasurer Joe Hockey approved the sale under the nation’s foreign investment rules.
John Holland subcontracted another Chinese company, Yuanda, to supply the roof panels which the asbestos was found in.
Case should ‘serve as lesson’
Mr Gow said the case should serve as a lesson for the entire Australian building industry.
“There is a continuing risk to the Western Australian and the Australian construction industries from non-conforming products and we need to work with our colleagues in other states to make sure there are proper processes in place,” he said.
The commission accepted John Holland’s procurement process was in line with industry standards, but said it could be improved.
It also found it was the manufacturing process employed by Yuanda that allowed non-specified and non conforming products to enter the supply chain.
“Workers, contractors, other people involved really need to be very careful about cutting materials that could contain asbestos, having proper dust control in place and managing the health and safety risk that occurs,” Mr Gow said.
Asbestos dust control inadequate
Mr Buchan slammed what he saw as a lack of detail in the report.
He was also furious about the amount of dust workers were exposed to when they cut the panels.
Mr Gow agreed it could have been handled better.
“There is some evidence I think that the dust control and the work control around cutting the holes in the [roof] panels could have had better dust control and that would have reduced the risk and the hazard that eventually occurred,” he said.
The report points out that China still allows asbestos in building materials.
It also states that the Department of Immigration does not test every batch of imported building material for asbestos contributed to the presence of asbestos at the hospital.
Mr Gow said it was difficult to police.
“There’s a vast amount of stuff that’s imported into the country and clearly it’s not possible to stop everything at the border or test everything,” he said.
In a statement Yuanda Australia said independent asbestos experts were testing all 68 sites across Australia where its products had been installed.
It said so far 28 locations had been tested and all samples had come up negative.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it had been checking Yuanda shipments closely as it “proactively manages” the risk of asbestos-containing products from entering Australia.
Since the discovery of asbestos in Yuanda products in both Perth and Brisbane, Border Protection said it had detected asbestos in a Yuanda shipment which was to enter Australia.