The government education bureau for the Australian state of Queensland has opened an investigation regarding the findings of asbestos in a local high school. Last week, staff members at the Mackay North High School in the northern part of the state had to be relocated after building inspectors found that construction workers had displaced roofing tiles later found to contain asbestos.
Wayne Butler, a spokesman for Education Queensland, said that the purpose of the investigation is to learn how communications between work crews and school officials broke down and how such incidents could be prevented in the future. He also said that contractors worked all night to insure that the classrooms and staff work areas are safe and that they were not affected by potential asbestos contamination.
Parents of the students at the school, as well as other government officials, expressed their concerns that the incident was more serious than had been previously stated. One parent sent a letter to Education Queensland saying that the statement read more like efforts at “damage control” than at trying to rectify the situation.
Another parent, who works as a roofer, said that he was concerned because he understands how projects involving asbestos roofing materials can go wrong.
Members of the State Opposition party said that the report shows the government has had major issues when dealing with asbestos remediation processes, a problem that has been rampant all over the country in recent years. Earlier this month, the country’s worker safety bureau, SAFE Work, released a report on the growing problems involving workers in the construction trades who handle asbestos. While many of them are aware of the dangers of asbestos, most of them do not have the proper training or education to work with such a hazardous material.
Australian Education Minister Geoff Wilson has also stated his dismay at the processes carried out at the nearby Mackay West Primary School. A report released about remodeling work done at the elementary school suggests that workers used sandpaper to remove paint from walls containing asbestos, a process that can release the harmful dust into the air. When workers inhale asbestos dust, the fibers become trapped in the lung tissue and can cause serious respiratory diseases.
Mr. Wilson said that he would discuss the issue with Members of Parliament to determine what course of action the government can take against the contractors. He also stated that the state would not hire the contracting firms, QBuild and Parsons Brinckerhoff, for any other such jobs on school facilities. He mentioned that the principals at the affected schools could also face disciplinary action for failing to “ensure the safety of the students” during the asbestos removal projects.
Alan Wagner, an official with the Department of Education, said that the possibility that students and faculty may have been exposed to asbestos-laced paint flakes is “an extremely serious situation” and is “not acceptable”. He stated that his department, which oversees school infrastructure issues, has launched their own investigation into the incident.
Sources: Brisbane Times, Daily Mercury, Australian Broadcasting Network