‘A systematic approach to managing asbestos’ and ‘Putting safety into practice’ provide a valuable insight to what has been under way over a four-year period as the company manages and eradicates asbestos containing materials from the workplace.

It is work that has raised Ergon’s profile across the country to the point it is recognized as one of the leaders in its field.

“Establishing a single point of accountability was crucial in our approach,” says Peter Billing, the executive who heads up Ergon’s Customer Service business unit.

“Finding someone who has the right passion, knowledge and drive and then supporting them to do what they need to do has made the rest of the process much more straightforward.  We’ve achieved a lot with only one full time employee – but you have to fund it and get the right person.”

Wayne Cullen

That full time employee is Wayne Cullen and his appointment in 2011 set in train Ergon’s strategy to raise the profile of asbestos as a workplace risk and make a difference in how it was managed. Wayne’s appointment as Asbestos Manager separated it from other work health and safety accountabilities. It signaled to every employee that asbestos was an issue which had to be taken seriously.

Pictured: Asbestos manager Wayne Cullen showing how Quick Recognition (QR) codes on a warning sign can link visitors to the latest information on the asbestos register.

The work to date has included the systematic approach to identifying and removing asbestos containing material. Data gleaned from audits of Ergon sites built before 2004 and customer switchboards is just some of the trove of information gathered in comprehensive asbestos registers that are used to manage and protect the public and Ergon employees.

The journey hasn’t been without its challenges. Asbestos, being an insidious material with a delayed effect means complacency can be an issue to those working with and around it.

“When you make a mistake with electricity you know about it straight away. Whereas with asbestos, you don’t know about it for 20 or 30 years,” Wayne says.

Changing the culture and getting this message out has been a priority.

To that end Wayne has worked hard to change attitudes – producing videos, running face to face training sessions, site visits, engaging staff and unions in developing safe work processes, and keeping the issue on the agenda with employees, managers and senior executives through regular presentations and updates. 

But where the rubber hits the road is in the field and that is being achieved by “making best practice the easiest practice”, says Wayne.

One example in the second case study published by the ASEA details how Ergon replaced traditional P2 respirators with Powered Air Purifying Respirators for teams working with Silva link fuses (many of which contain friable asbestos) on electricity poles. The P2 masks required the person to be clean shaven to ensure a proper seal but PAPRs consist of a hood that goes over the person’s head and a pump that generates a constant positive air pressure, preventing any chance of airborne asbestos fibres being inhaled.

Wayne says engaging employees and unions in developing safe work processes like these have been critical in getting traction.

“Replacing complex safety procedures with higher control measures that simplify the process, having ownership, drawing on employee expertise, keeping things simple and providing the right tools for the right people have been a feature in our approach,” he says.

Four years on from his appointment as Asbestos Manager Wayne is hopeful the publication of the case studies, which also contain sections on how to overcome challenges and achieve results, will help other businesses form strategies to safeguard both employee and public health.

QR code scan

“We have found that the message around asbestos resonates when we ask everyone to think about how they would feel if they heard in the future that one of their then team members or mates had an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma,” he says.

It’s a scenario that Wayne is working to avoid.

Pictured: Warning signs are being located at sites known to have asbestos containing material. A QR (Quick Recognition) code puts the visitor in touch with an asbestos register.

Readers can find the case studies on the AESA website

About the AESA

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency was established on 1 July 2013 to provide a national focus on asbestos issues which goes beyond workplace safety to encompass environmental and public health concerns.  The agency aims to ensure asbestos issues receive the attention and focus needed to drive change across all levels of government. Source: https://www.asbestossafety.gov.au/

Further Links

Asbestos Manager Wayne Cullen explains in this video what Ergon Energy has done, and is doing, to protect its workers, contractors and the public from asbestos at is worksites.

We appreciate your feedback. If you would like to comment on this story please contact talkingenergy@ergon.com.au