Telstra has committed to recruiting a 200-strong field workforce to supervise all pit-and-pipe remediation work undertaken by contractors after two cases of unsafe asbestos handling in two days.
The carrier has also completely stopped work on pit remediation until it completes an urgent audit and puts its contractors and subcontractors through urgent "further training" on handing techniques.
The commitments came as multiple investigations were launched into the mishandling of asbestos by subcontractors at sites in Ballarat, Victoria, and Penrith, NSW, which have forced residents in the areas to evacuee their homes. The carrier is working to clean up the affected areas.
Contractors that were involved in the substandard work were immediately suspended, Telstra said.
Federal workplace safety agency ComCare has also deployed inspectors to investigate "the work, health and safety systems at Telstra and its contractors in Tasmania, NSW and Victoria", Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told a Budget Estimates hearing earlier today.
The Office of Asbestos Safety is also involved in formulating a national strategy with Telstra to deal with the safe removal and disposal of asbestos.
Conroy said he had been in contact with Telstra CEO David Thodey to "personally convey my serious concerns about this issue."
"There are no shortcuts at all when dealing with asbestos," Conroy said. "All safety procedures must be adhered to."
Conroy spent much of the hearings distancing NBN Co from any responsibility for the safety breaches.
"Telstra's pit and duct infrastructure is being leased by NBN Co," he said.
"As part of those agreements, Telstra is required to undertake remediation work before providing the pits and ducts to NBN Co for use.
"That is, Telstra has an obligation to ensure that their pits and ducts are safe, secure and ready, before NBN Co starts rolling out the NBN fibre network.
"I would stress that the incidents that have been described in Penrith and Ballarat are not instances that involve NBN Co or any of its subcontractors.
"Telstra have accepted responsibility. It's their work, their workforce and their subcontractors. So Telstra have put up their hand as they should and said we are responsible."