BMCC statement about passing of former employee

17 Feb 2020

Council was advised on 9 February 2020 about the passing of former Council employee Morris Pugh, who retired in 2015.

Mr Pugh had worked as a Plant Operator from 1980 to 2015, performing a wide range of outdoor work across the City.  He died from an asbestos-related disease.

Blue Mountains City Council Chief Executive Officer, Dr Rosemary Dillon, said: “We are extremely saddened by the news of the passing of Mr Pugh and have offered Council’s sincere condolences to his family. While it is impossible to pinpoint where, when and exactly how Mr Pugh contracted the disease, the fact is he was a former employee and we care for him. 

“There is an opportunity for the Council to respond to his wishes related to informing his co-workers about the availability of screening services and supporting them with the provision of counselling services, if required. Further, the Council can ensure that retiring staff receive a range of information to support their health and well-being, including information about dust disease screening services.

“Blue Mountains City Council is committed to being a leader in workplace health and safety within the local government sector and in educating other organisations, and the broader community, on the risks and appropriate management of asbestos. Given that asbestos is pervasive in local government areas across Australia, organisational and community education are very important matters.”

Asbestos containing materials were commonly used in houses and buildings built throughout Australia before 1990. It is only since December 2003 that there has been a total ban on the manufacture, use, reuse, import, transport, storage or sale of all forms of asbestos. One of the challenges arising from the widespread use of asbestos is that the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases do not usually appear for 20-30 years after first exposure.

Blue Mountains City Council has, over recent years, acted to address asbestos management issues implementing a wide range of programs to improve and strengthen asbestos management. Council has adopted an Asbestos Removal Program, under which the Council has committed itself, over time, to the safe removal of all asbestos from its buildings and facilities. A Hazardous Materials Team has been established within the Council, tasked with implementing the asbestos removal program and with addressing any required asbestos or hazardous material removal works, until the Asbestos Removal Program is completed.

The Council has also complied with all directions given by SafeWork NSW and the Environment Protection Authority in relation to asbestos management.

A report from the CEO to the Council Meeting of 25 February 2020 will respond to issues identified by Mr Pugh’s family including:

  • Concern that Mr Pugh was not contacted and offered health screening after the Council became aware of issues and allegations relating to asbestos management. In response to this concern, the Council has indicated that it was not required by NSW law to provide health monitoring services for past employees. In 2017 all current staff were invited to participate in asbestos health monitoring, provided by the icare Dust Diseases Care service, even though Council was only required to provide this to staff who carry out asbestos work. Just over 200 employees elected to do so and there have been no adverse findings to date from the health monitoring and screening program. However, the Council report proposes that the organisation implement a Workplace Health and Safety initiative from 1 March 2020 that would provide any employee retiring from the organisation with a Health and Well-Being Information Package, with links to a wide range of health and well-being resources, including services provided by icare. 
  • Concern for other former employees and a request that they be contacted and arrangements made for them to be screened regularly.Responding to this concern, the Council proposes that it will endeavour to contact fellow workers of Mr Pugh who have left the Council since 2010, to inform them of his passing and of his wish that they be informed on how they can access free medical screening and health assessments. The Council will provide information to these past employees on the range of health support services offered by icare.
  • Concern that current and past employees may be impacted by Mr Pugh’s passing and be provided with access to counselling support, if required.The Council report recommends that current and past employees of Council who worked with Mr Pugh be informed that they may use the Council's free counselling services, if required.  This service is currently available to all Council employees.

Mayor Mark Greenhill said BMCC had the opportunity to go above and beyond current legislation, in regards to ensuring that employees from now on have access to information that supports their health and wellbeing in retirement.

“It is imperative that Council leads with compassion in circumstances like this and I wholeheartedly support what the CEO Is proposing.”

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