Australia: ETU Condemns Bechtel Over Asbestos Exposure at Gladstone LNG Plants

ETU Judges Bechtel Over Asbestos Exposure at Gladstone LNG Plants

The ETU is demanding an investigation into American multinational Bechtel over issues including; asbestos exposure, failure to employ a number of qualified locals and not supporting Australian manufacturing.

The attack comes as the ETU revealed it has confirmed evidence that at least 90 members have been exposed to the deadly carcinogenic white asbestos at Bechtel’s Gladstone operations. The exposures occurred when work was being undertaken on switchrooms and Motor Control Centre’s (MCC) imported from Indonesia by manufacturer Metito. And further that Bechtel has failed in its duty of care to advise more than 200 ETU members of the existence of the highly toxic, illegal killer at two of its three Curtis Island operations

Metito is contracted on all three Curtis Island sites; QCLNG, GLNG and APLNG for water and sewerage treatment plants.

ETU state secretary Peter Simpson slammed Bechtel for the serious breach of health and safety.

“Testing at the QCLNG plant where work on the switchrooms is beginning and the GLNG site where much of the work has been done reveal the existence of white asbestos Chrysotile in MCC ceilings, walls and floors. (see attached reports and workforce bulletin) This is either a monumental process failure by this multinational company or a deliberate cover up, either way their actions have exposed our members to a deadly toxin,” Mr Simpson said.

“Our first priority is the health and safety of our more than 200 members employed on Curtis Island projects and there are serious questions to be answered by Bechtel and Metito. Our investigations show Bechtel as the primary contractor has failed the most basic duty of care; white asbestos is hazardous, illegal and dangerous”

“We are demanding that Bechtel reveal the location and extent of their dealings with Metito, we want to know what they knew before, during and after the exposures,” Mr Simpson said.

Mr Simpson outlined some consequential issues associated with asbestos related exposure.

“Bechtel’s failure not only exposes the workers on the sites but also potentially family members, cleaners and fellow workers through washing and cross contamination contact with clothes and boots. This risk is further heightened by the appalling process of ‘Moteling’ where donga’s (living quarters) are reallocated after a 4 week period,” Mr. Simpson said.

The ETU is also seeking immediate action over Bechtel withholding wages from ETU members who took matters into their own hands last week when they downed tools seeking answers about the toxic substance.

“Last Wednesday our members remained in the crib shed at the QCLNG site waiting for Bechtel to give them the all clear after they were advised that white asbestos was detected in switchrooms and MCC’s. An unknown company endorsed inspector told the ETU members late on Wednesday that it was safe and likened it to the asbestos found in the schools here in Queensland. A company supervisor stated that it was “the good asbestos” “

“It seems unbelievable to the ETU that a supervisor would describe any asbestos material as “good” particularly white asbestos which is universally accepted as being a carcinogen. But what happened next was nothing short of industrial bastardry. Bechtel’s response to their employees was to dock their wages because they said they had participated in unprotected industrial action. This is completely unacceptable. Our members were well within their rights under Workplace Health and Safety legislation regarding imminent risks,”

“We have put an offer to Bechtel that ETU members would donate four hours of their unpaid wages to an asbestos related – charity, and we asked Bechtel to do the same, they refused,”

The union also questioned Bechtel’s commitment to local workers and the manufacturing industry.

“Apart from the massive health and safety issues, the importation of substandard, cheaper components from overseas is also diminishing the capacity of the local manufacturing industry. We support the call for mining and resource companies to support Australian manufacturing. In relation to employing locals first, we are also concerned that Bechtel’s policy of not employing 1st year apprentices is disadvantaging Australian workers and we have anecdotal evidence that they Bechtel are looking to import workers from overseas without exhausting the local employment pool first,”

This is not the first time the ETU has been at loggerheads with Bechtel over health and safety and the treatment of workers.

During the Yarwin stage 2 Project a worker lost his leg because of lax quality testing on welds (they were required to test only 10% of welds)

“Bechtel gave a commitment they would improve their inspection processes on that job and future jobs, they have obviously abandoned that commitment,”

Mr Simpson points to a recent incident as a further indictment on Bechtel’s treatment of workers.

“An employee suffered a suspected heart attack on one of the Curtis Island sites, he was evacuated from site in the community funded helicopter to Rockhampton Hospital, the company failed to notify the employee’s wife, his wife was notified some 6 hours later by the employees mate no company representatives attended the hospital, he was discharged in a hospital gown and his wife was required to book a hotel room for him. The company paid for a bus ticket to get the employee back to Gladstone. This is just disgusting and highlights a complete lack of empathy and respect,”

“They are behaving like a typical multinational company whose only concern is the bottom line. It has to stop, we will not tolerate Bechtel or anyone else for that matter using urgency and costs as reasons for cutting corners on safety and treating workers without respect,” he said.

Source: ETU, August 02, 2012; Image: APLNG