United at odds with FMG on asbestos rail cars



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Removal of asbestos from Fortescue Metals Group from around 3,400 Chinese rail cars is being carried out without adequate safety precautions, according to unions representing railroad maintenance workers.

In 2017 FMG discovered white asbestos in a friction wear plate on the suspension system 3384 train cars and reported it to the safety regulator.

WorkSafe issued a notice of improvement to FMG in September 2017 that gave iron ore miners headed by Andrew Forrest for two years to remove asbestos.

WorkSafe has told train operators in 2013 that asbestos has been found on several friction plates.

The assistant secretary of state of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Glenn McLaren, yesterday visited the Thomas FMG train base near Port Hedland where work on asbestos removal was being carried out.

AMWU Assistant Secretary of State Glenn McLaren at FMG's Thomas Yard near Port Hedland yesterday.
Camera iconAMWU Assistant Secretary of State Glenn McLaren at FMG's Thomas Yard near Port Hedland yesterday.Picture: Supplied

McLaren said work had begun recently and about four cars per day were being completed.

"They only cracked one year after the notice of repairs was issued," he said.

FMG chief executive Elizabeth Gaines said iron ore miners have tested the potential of spare parts since finding a problem.

"Since October (2018), 958 of the 3384 affected cars have changed their parts safely," he said.

Ms Gaines said FMG was on track to complete work with the September 2019 regulator deadline.

McLaren said asbestos transfer workers had inadequate decontamination facilities.

He said they watered themselves at the end of the shift with a spray of hand-pumped water as used by gardeners.

The union leader said he feared that other workers near asbestos removal jobs could be exposed to lethal fibers.

He said the bunded zone for separating the work area "is two witch hats with a little ribbon on it".

"It won't contain asbestos particles," he said.

Ms Gaines said the work was in accordance with the practice code for removing asbestos that was not loose.

Breakable asbestos, which can be easily crushed into dust, is a more dangerous form of fibrous material.

McLaren said its members had kept several rail cars affected for a decade.

"There is no supervision of workers or health monitoring," he said.

Ms Gaines said independent monitoring from the start had identified very low risk exposure for employees and regular monitoring, which would continue, continues to strengthen this.

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