Unions NSW has released a four pillar plan to fight asbestos importation, as it emerges that an engineering company that has repeatedly imported asbestos is attempting to escape its obligation to remove the deadly substance.

RJ Engineering has filed in the Industrial Relations Commission, seeking to escape its obligation to remove asbestos used in the construction of a wind farm in Taralga, in regional NSW. The company claims it was unaware that the building materials contained asbestos.

It’s not the first time the company has imported asbestos. Asbestos was also found in electrical tram substations built by RJ Engineering in Melbourne and Adelaide last year

Unions NSW is calling on federal and state governments to implement its four-pillar plan to deter companies – unwittingly or otherwise – from importing asbestos.

  • Reverse onus of proof: If you have imported asbestos the onus should be on you to prove that you weren’t responsible. Ignorance is not an excuse. 
  • A national procurement register: Anyone who has imported asbestos must be banned from all government projects.
  • An exhaustive due diligence test: If you are purchasing building materials from a jurisdiction that is a known exporter of asbestos, you must check and vet the material independently before it reaches a building site. The existing “reasonable steps” test is not rigorous enough.
  • Enforce the law at the border: Asbestos importation is illegal. We need specialist training of border force staff to ensure they can analyse building materials that raise a red flag for potential asbestos.

Attributable to Mark Morey, Unions NSW Secretary: 

“We are deeply concerned at the precedent that would be set if RJ Engineering wriggles out of its obligation to remove asbestos from this wind farm in Taralga. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, a single fibre can be deadly.

“Australia has already decided to ban asbestos and this needs to be enforced. Concerted action is needed to avoid a new wave of asbestos-related disease and death. 

“Anyone who has imported asbestos should be banned from bidding on government contracts. If you have put public safety at risk, you should not receive public money.

“Stiffer penalties and a reverse onus of proof will also help deter potential asbestos importers. Ignorance must not be an excuse for importing this deadly product. 

“Australia also needs a robust and vigilant asbestos inspection regime. Border force officers should be trained to inspect building products from countries that are known asbestos exporters. And companies must be required to show that products have been independently tested and certified.”

“Approximately 1,000 people die from asbestos exposure each year. Australia needs a zero tolerance approach to this deadly material.”

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