Ballarat Health Services has been forced to advise hundreds of current and former employees to undertake asbestos testing after pieces of the broken construction material were found at the Lederman Hall.
An Environmental Health Solutions report from September 13 revealed damaged asbestos was present in the storage space of the building at the Queen Elizabeth Centre, located under the hall’s staging.
Letters were sent earlier this month “strongly encouraging” staff who may have been exposed to the asbestos to undertake a health surveillance medical.
A BHS spokesperson declined to say how many staff had been sent a letter or if any current or former patients had been advised to undergo a test.
In a statement, the spokesperson said independent experts suggested the risk of exposure was very low.
“As a precaution, the asbestos has been removed and we are offering staff who may have accessed the storage area a medical examination for their peace of mind,” the statement read. “Ballarat Health Services takes the health, wellbeing and safety of its staff extremely seriously.”
Asbestos was removed from the hall last week following recommendations in the EHS report. The document stated there was damage to the ceiling lining with holes in the asbestos ranging “from a few centimetres to greater than 30 centimetres”.
BHS employees had contacted the Health Workers Union which led to a complaint being lodged with WorkSafe.
In a statement, a WorkSafe spokesperson said “after receiving a complaint, WorkSafe visited the centre and was satisfied that appropriate removal procedures had been followed”.
The letter addressed to concerned staff stated BHS did not know how long the asbestos had been broken, however stated it was in good condition when the last building report was conducted in November 2014.
It is believed the asbestos was broken in the process of storing furniture underneath the staging area. Broken asbestos was also found on the floor of the storage area.
The report issued to BHS advised that air monitoring take place during and after the removal of asbestos.
The report also advised all items stored in the space be cleaned or disposed of in addition to the removal of all asbestos from the sub-stage ceiling.
Details of affected staff have also been added to the Ballarat Health Services Asbestos Register, maintained by the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Department.
Ballarat Trades Hall secretary Brett Edgington said he was disappointed at how long it took BHS to address the asbestos.
“From a Trades Hall point of view we weren’t particularly satisfied with the initial response from Ballarat Health Services and we took action to get a better outcome,” Mr Edgington said.
“As organisation as big as BHS should have been undertaking regular building audit regimes which would have detected this,”
“The fact its taken the material breaking and falling is not good enough.”
BHS declined to say how much the testing regime was costing the Department of Health.
Breathing asbestos fibres can cause a range of health problems including lung cancer and mesothelioma.