Asbestos fears for Port Hedland tug workers

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Up to 10 workers at BHP Billiton’s Port Hedland site were exposed to asbestos after completing maintenance work on a tug boat.

According to the Maritime Union of Australia crew from Teekay Shipping, a BHP contractor, were exposed to chrysotile, or white asbestos, while removing gasket material on the Star Voyager last month.

Two weeks earlier Teekay workers at Port Hedland walked off the job after asbestos was found in the gasket joining material on another tug, the PB Fitzroy.

Fair Work Australia ordered an end to the strike on August 29, but with the proviso Teekay “put in place precautions to minimise the risk of exposure to its employees”.

After the ruling the MUA and Teekay agreed to the introduction of an asbestos management plan.

MUA assistant branch secretary Will Tracey said the Teekay crew were exposed to asbestos for up to 24 hours after the Star Voyager maintenance.

He said at least one worker had also exposed their family to asbestos after returning home from work in contaminated workclothes.

A BHP Billiton spokesperson told The West Australian it was aware some of its Port Hedland tugs contained small amounts of asbestos.

“However the company has been working closely with Teekay Shipping who operate the company’s tug fleet to ensure an appropriate management plan is in place,” the said.

Both the Star Voyager and PB Fitzroy were built by Chinese shipmaker Cheoy Lee Shipyards.

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