Councillors cleared in investigation into asbestos management


04 Apr 2018

The final report of the independent investigation initiated by the Council in relation to the Council’s management of asbestos has been received.

The report, like the three previous interim reports, makes no findings against Councillors. Having regard to the Final Report and all available information available to the Council, it is clear that the asbestos management issues identified in the interim reports were never raised with the elected Council body before the improvement notice issued by SafeWork NSW on 22 May 2017.

The elected Council resolved to adopt all of the recommendations of the final report on the Blue Mountains City Council asbestos investigation at an Extraordinary Meeting tonight.

The Council has previously adopted all of the recommendations of the investigators' three interim reports. All of the reports were prepared by the highly regarded law firm Clyde and Co, who provide expert work, health and safety advice.

Mayor, Cr Mark Greenhill, said: “We continue to demonstrate our commitment to managing asbestos as an absolute priority.

“Implementing the recommendations of all Clyde and Co. reports reaffirms this commitment to manage asbestos and our commitment to the safety of our workers and community.” 
 
The independent investigation identified gaps in Council’s past approach to asbestos management. Those gaps have been, and will continue to be, addressed. 

The investigation covered asbestos management at:
•    Lawson Carpark, Lawson Mechanics Institute and Lawson stockpile.
•    The presence of asbestos containing material at the former Blackheath landfill, and
•    Council’s approach to asbestos management and the systems, policies and procedures guiding operational practices.

In his comments, the Mayor noted that a commitment to the total elimination of asbestos from Council properties was never seriously considered by relevant Council staff. This possibility is often overlooked within large organisations with a significant property portfolio, and has been particularly common in the public sector, where funding for such projects required justification to the community. Unfortunately, the "total elimination" option was never put before the governing body for consideration, as a long term project.

An additional challenge for the governing body of a council is presented by the LG Act, which excludes elected Councillors from operational matters. The LG Act states that it is the function of the General Manager, and not the elected body, to conduct the day-day management of the Council in accordance with the strategic plans, programs, strategies and policies of the Council.

The Council initiated the independent investigation into the management of asbestos in Council owned properties in November 2017. 

"The Council is on the journey to strengthen our safety systems,” Cr Greenhill said. “We wanted this investigation to identify all relevant matters, to ensure that the Council secures appropriate advice and, having regard to that advice, is in a position to address and resolve all relevant issues in relation to asbestos management, past, present and future.” 

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