Whistleblower slams report
A REPORT into the mismanagement of asbestos at Warwick West State School earlier this year clears staff of any wrong doing, but a whistleblower at the heart of the mess has stuck by his claims the situation was “covered up” by school authorities.
Many parents became aware of an asbestos related incident through the rumour-mill on January 27 this year and concerned parents rushed to the school to collect their kids.
The whistleblower said the school was aware of the presence of poisonous friable asbestos months prior to the incident and had called for tenders to remove the material.
He added a qualified asbestos removalist made school staff aware of the mismanagement of the material, after a load of asbestos was illegally dumped at the Morgan Park Waste Facility.
Despite the asbestos removalist’s pleas to the school authorities to close the school due to a unacceptable risk to staff and students, it remained open and parents none the wiser for several days.
The Department of Education and Training’s Asbestos Management Plan clearly outlines the procedures to be followed in such an incident.
The manual says state school principals are responsible for the “preparation and notification of asbestos related incidents to parents and caregivers within 24 hours of first discovery by the school of an asbestos related incident”.
The whistleblower claims the dangerous mismanagement of asbestos was brought to the attention of authorities before the school year started in January and said the school failed in its duty of care to the children by not alerting parents.
The Department of Education and Training (DET) yesterday released an excerpt of a report – compiled by independent expert John Gaskin – which highlights the failure of the contractor to meet his obligations.
It does not however, address the conduct and responsibilities of the departmental staff.
The industry whistleblower said the report was a “whitewash” and said he believed the incident was “covered up”.
“Staff and students were put in danger because procedures weren’t followed.”
The report concludes that contractors who commit serious breaches when working with asbestos in Queensland state schools will be banned from future work with the department and may be made financially responsible for clean-up costs.
Department of Education and Training (DET), Minister Cameron Dick said the actions of the contractor were “unacceptable” and said there was no excuse for not carrying out work to DET’s standards.
“Mr Gaskin’s report found the incident at Warwick West State School occurred as a result of failure of the contractor to comply with policy, not a failure of policy,” he said.
“The incident was completely unacceptable.”
Member for Southern Downs Lawrence Springborg described the incident as being the product of a “comedy of errors” and said it was something that should “never have happened”.
While Mr Springborg refused to single out anybody he believed to be negligent, he did say he believed “there were a number of people who didn’t fulfil their obligations” at the time and he said he had no doubt errors were made.
“The school community should never have been put through that heartache and worry,” he said.
“The (Asbestos management) manual the department has is as clear as anything – it’s not one of these things that is bureaucratic gobbledegook – anyone can understand it,” he said.
“If people followed the procedures it would never have escalated to the point it did.”
While Mr Springborg said he believed the incident had been taken “very seriously” by the government, he said he couldn’t rule out some parties had made attempts to “play it down, dismiss and disregard” the reports of asbestos mismanagement.
“I don’t think there was a cover-up on the part of the government but I have no doubt it wasn’t taken seriously when it was first uncovered,” he said.