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Asbestos in Telstra pits sparks safety fears for NBN roll-out

Poor asbestos handling during NBN work by Telstra contractors has sparked nationwide safety assessments.

Poor asbestos handling during National Broadband Network (NBN) work by Telstra contractors have seen work shut down in Penrith, Western Sydney, while the contractors in question have been suspended.

(Credit: Telstra)

Asbestos concrete was used to construct many old Telstra communication pits around the country. Such pits must be handled with great care by contractors while working to roll NBN fibre out to these areas. But Telstra contractor Service Stream was found to be in breach of safety guidelines.

While work was shut down in the area earlier this week, Penrith Mayor Mark Davies has said there were resident concerns about asbestos from residents three weeks ago and that Telstra had been unacceptably slow to act.

As well as working to clean up any dangerous debris at worksites, Telstra is also working with residents to clean properties to ensure that nothing has entered homes in the area. Telstra has also brought in a team of 200 asbestos specialists to audit procedures across the country to ensure that all future work adheres to strict handling guidelines.

The audit process will not affect the NBN roll-out schedule.

There are also calls from the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union for Telstra to create a "James Hardie-style" fund for future workers and residents who may have been exposed to asbestos.