Len Farnham, who was photographed here using a domestic vacuum cleaner to remove asbestos-contaminated paint flecks from a Mackay school, claims he was asked to sign back-dated documents claiming he had been trained.
Len Farnham, who was photographed here using a domestic vacuum cleaner to remove asbestos-contaminated paint flecks from a Mackay school, claims he was asked to sign back-dated documents claiming he had been trained. Contributed

Man exposed to asbestos, sacked

LEN Farnham is the man who was photographed using a domestic vacuum cleaner to remove asbestos-contaminated paint flecks from Mackay West Primary School on December 16. He is now worried about the consequences for his health.

Mr Farnham claims his employers did not tell him the site had asbestos. He also alleges his employer, Programmed Property Services, asked him and three co-workers to sign a back-dated document claiming they had been trained to handle asbestos.

On Wednesday, Mr Farnham lodged a letter of complaint with the Workplace Health and Safety division of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General regarding the incident at Mackay West State School.

On February 24, the Minister for Public Works Robert Schwarten announced his department would investigate allegations regarding the handling of asbestos at the site.

A Programmed Property Services spokesperson yesterday said the company was co-operating with these investigations.

“The allegations that have been made (by Mr Farnham) are not entirely accurate,” the spokesperson said. “It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

In his complaint letter, Mr Farnham alleged he was not told he would come in contact with asbestos and was untrained to handle it when he did the clean-up work at the school on December 16.

“I was asked to sign a document on February 12 this year stating that I had been trained in the safe handling of asbestos,” Mr Farnham said in the letter. “This document was back-dated to December 15, 2009.”

Mr Farnham said when he was told the documents had been back-dated he asked Programmed Property Services representatives to destroy them. He said his employers first spoke to him about the processes for safe handling of asbestos on February 8. Mr Farnham says he was dismissed from the company on February 23, and he believes this was brought about by the concerns he raised over the incident at the school.

On February 12, the Daily Mercury reported claims that workers had allowed contaminated paint flecks and debris to fall and spread onto a lawn at the school on December 16. It was alleged the painters breached the Code of Practice for the Safe Removal of Asbestos by sanding walls that contained asbestos and using a vacuum cleaner to remove debris.

At the time, Programmed Maintenance Services branch manager Mark Lee said staff were not trained in asbestos removal and were unaware sanding was hazardous. “We got a vacuum cleaner in, which was the wrong vacuum cleaner so we went and hired a proper one,” he told the Daily Mercury. “It was probably a training issue we needed to deal with. It has been a learning curve.”

Mr Farnham said the workers weren’t told there was asbestos there.

“(We had) no protective gear, no disposable overalls and no masks.”

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