Whatever happened to the managers duty of care to their employees? The conscious decision to bury Property Reports because of the cost of repairing or replacing police accommodation can never be justified by the Nuremburg Defence, “I was only following orders.” This is the life , and health, and safety of police officers families at stake here!! If any member of these families is affected by asbestos, they could die agonising deaths. Apart from their duty of care, do these managers in the Police Service have no conscience?? Or do they reassure themselves that they will be long gone from their positions in 20 - 30 years time when members of the police officers’ families have developed asbestosis or mesothelioma? Thank heavens for the Police Association bringing all this to light. Who says unions are no longer relevant!
Trail of deceit as emails expose asbestos scandal
October 30, 2011
AN INTERNAL email chain has exposed key police personnel who deliberately kept thousands of officers and their families in the dark about asbestos and other poisonous hazards in stations and houses across NSW.
Embarrassed by the biggest police scandal since the Wood royal commission in the 1990s, the force's chiefs instigated a witch-hunt, tracking all related emails, memos and hard-drive files.
The resulting report was never meant to be made public, but The Sun-Herald has obtained the document that identifies the former general manager of the Police Property Group, Emmanuel Varipatis, as the person ''largely responsible'' for the ''conscious decision'' to bury hundreds of safety audits that identified threats in police houses and stations.
But The Sun-Herald has already exposed an internal report that admitted the force had ''$0'' to fix more than 200 hazardous properties, work that would cost tens of millions of dollars.
Mr Varipatis said: ''I was just following orders.'' He said he withheld the safety audits because he was told to. ''I sought advice from our experts and I followed that advice. I couldn't open up the reports because there would have been an avalanche [of complaints].''
The Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, told a police budget estimates hearing in Parliament on Thursday he was unaware of the problem until he received a call while on annual leave in July.
''Can I say, in terms of my being advised, was I happy? No,'' Mr Scipione said. ''Have I indicated, if you like, that I am to the point where I actually apologised? Yes, I have. The requirements of legislation in NSW make it very clear. We should have been advising police officers … when it came to asbestos. We did not.''
Mr Varipatis has acknowledged a ''conscious decision'' was made to deliberately keep officers and their families in the dark about hundreds of stations and houses contaminated with lead and asbestos.
Mr Varipatis and other key figures were implicated in the cover-up after the Police Force conducted a covert internal investigation into the decision-making process.
The report uncovers a ''fundamental failure across all parties involved in the management of the Police Property Portfolio'' to ensure the workforce was briefed about the risks. It names Mr Varipatis as being ''largely responsible'' for withholding hundreds of risk assessments from concerned employees due to a concern they would be ''misinterpreted and misunderstood''.
IN ONE email exchange, the Police Safety Command director, Julie Wills, points to a legislative loophole which means the force is not technically required to disclose the full reports about hazardous police housing - because the homes were not regarded as workplace buildings.
Mr Varipatis replies: ''Many thanks Julie, you're a champion … I will stay firm on not releasing the reports. If down the track in 2012 the legislation makes the home the extended workplace, we will need to reassess.''
Both Mr Varipatis and Ms Wills have since left the police force.
Mr Varipatis, who holds a senior position at Fire and Rescue NSW, told The Sun-Herald on Friday: ''I was just following orders.
''There was a chain of command and the instructions I received from the NSW Police Safety Command was not to release the reports to the workforce because it would cause undue panic.
''I was told that in nearly every case, every report, there was no danger. You have to understand these reports are very technical and if you're not trained to know what they mean, it can cause undue stress. I sought advice from our experts and I followed that advice. I couldn't open up the reports because there would have been an avalanche.''
In 2008, the Police Force commissioned private consultants Coffey Environments to conduct a safety audit of almost 1300 properties across NSW. Nearly 48 per cent of houses and 52 per cent of stations are more than 40 years old.
That ageing portfolio is co-ordinated centrally through the NSW Police Property Group and, since 2006, it has been managed externally through a company called United Group Limited. When the Coffey inspection reports began to filter through in April 2008, the results were alarming. The Sydney Police Centre Firing Range received an A1 risk rating, as did the Firearms Registry at Murwillumbah.
Hundreds of police homes across the western region were also affected, but officers and their families were repeatedly denied access to the reports until their union uncovered them in August.
LAST week, The Sun-Herald received a copy of the internal investigation into the cover-up.
Commissioned by the Deputy Commissioner for Corporate Services, Catherine Burn, the document has yet to be seen by either the Police Minister, Michael Gallacher, or the NSW Police Association's executive committee. For the first time, a clear chronological picture has emerged of what went wrong.
On September 19, 2008, United Group's Patricia McCann emailed a colleague about the disturbing reports being received: ''I was asked by the Police Property Group to inform Coffey not to discuss the audit findings with any police personnel, as this could lead to IR issues.''
But by November of the same year, police officers were inundating the Police Property Group with formal written requests for the ''asbestos audit'' relating to their properties. Those requests were systematically declined and in a ''response report'' dated January 9, 2009, the Police Property Group's liaison officer, Alan Baines, stated: ''It is not policy or usual practice to provide a copy of this type of report to the workforce.''
On October 22, 2009, minutes from a meeting revealed 900 sites had by now been assessed with an estimated repair bill of $32 million.
Around the same time, Mr Varipatis exchanged several emails with senior police in Bathurst about a senior constable who had suddenly quit his job because of ''a chronic inability to provide safe housing conditions which has had direct health effects on my family, including drinking water, lead paint, heating and sewage''. In his resignation letter, the officer accused his employer of withholding ''numerous tests results'' despite his repeated requests for them.
By February 2010, the Coffey audits were complete. In all, 460 properties were found to contain asbestos, lead or both - and the repair bill had skyrocketed to $45 million.
Of those, 63 were deemed high risk and required up to $20 million to fix. When those findings were rolled into a NSW Property Portfolio Strategic Plan, a report that addresses funding options, it stated there was ''$0'' available to make 205 hazardous properties comply with safety standards.
On April 27, 2010, internal memos revealed that Portland policeman Scott Bolton had been waiting almost eight months to obtain the results from a site audit for potential lead paint hazards at his station. At one point, he was snubbed with the following line: ''PPG Policy is that all reports and results are to remain with UGL and the Property Group.''
Even after he threatened legal action, the Property Group still refused to forward him the full report, choosing instead to provide limited detail. He was told: ''no hazardous materials detected''. The claim, however, was wrong and contradicted United Group field manager Gary McDonald's email on March 15, 2010, which stated: ''5.2 per cent lead paint content'' identified.
BY MAY 3, 2010, Mr McDonald had handed all ''hazmat'' (hazardous materials) reports to the Property Group's Jared Watson and advised him, via email, that he would ''need to liaise with the general manager, Mr Varipatis, to find out if and how this info will be handled''.
In the same email chain, frustration had begun to show at United Group, where Patricia McCann vented her dismay to Mr McDonald about the police's ongoing stance to hide the crisis from its workforce. After having held several meetings with Police Property Group decision makers, Ms McCann: ''PPG have not got their heads around how they are going to deal with all the ignorant phone calls regarding asbestos and lead paint poisoning. Numerous meetings have been held … therefore the decision was made not to have them [the reports] on-site, until the NSWPF can properly educate their employees.''
With threats of legal action and dozens of complaints mounting, the Police Property Group faced a challenge. Would it reveal the truth? The answer was no. In a May 10 email exchange circulated among Police Property Group bosses, Julie Wills, director of Police Safety Command, told Mr Varipatis that, based on her interpretation of the Occupational Health & Safety regulations, he might not have to release the full ''hazmat'' reports to police employees, ''just all the information necessary''.
When Mr Varipatis was asked yesterday whether he wished he could have done things differently, he said: ''You've put me on the spot. The police minister has called for an Ombudsman's inquiry so I assume they are going to ring me eventually. I will tell my side of the story then.''
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/trail-of-deceit-as-emails-expose-asbestos-scandal-20111029-1mpez.html#ixzz1cDegHGhh